WASHINGTON — Millions of reports on people barred by federal law from purchasing guns because of serious mental illness and drug abuse are never added to the federal background check system, according to a study set to be released Tuesday.
The report, by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and entitled “Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records In The Federal Background Check System Put Guns In The Hands Of Killers,” was sparked by last January’s assassination attempt on Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) that left six people dead and 14 injured.
The study, to be presented in a Senate hearing, finds two huge gaps in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is supposed to keep guns out of the hands of serious drug abusers and those with mental illness.
The first, harder to fix problem, is that many states and state agencies do not cooperate with the system. The second is that federal agencies don’t comply either. Congress tried to remedy both after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 that left 32 people dead and 15 injured, but with only partial success.
“Millions of records identifying seriously mentally ill people and drug abusers as prohibited purchasers are missing from the federal background check database because of lax reporting by state agencies,” the report says.
That is the tougher problem because, the report says, the Constitution’s 10th Amendment means that the federal government cannot force the states to turn over records.
Congress wrote up a number of financial incentives to get states to comply after the Virginia Tech killings, but so far the inducements have not worked well.
Among the more troubling statistics on state compliance, the report finds that 23 states and the District of Columbia each have submitted fewer than 100 records of people with disqualifying mental illness. And 17 states have handed over fewer than 10 records, while another four states have not turned in any.
The stats are even worse with substance abuse reports. Forty-four states have submitted fewer than 10 records, and 33 of those haven’t turned in any.
Still, the report found some signs of progress, in that vastly more mental health records are being added to NCIS. In 2006, before the Virginia Tech outburst, only 405 gun sales were stopped for mental health reasons, while that figure jumped to 6,103 in 2010.
The mayors recommend beefing up incentives to get states to do more.
Perhaps more troubling is a startling lack of compliance by federal agencies, the report found.
“Federal agencies are not reporting records to NICS, even though the NICS Improvement Act requires all federal agencies to provide ‘any record of any person’ who is prohibited from purchasing firearms to the FBI on at least a quarterly basis,” the report says.
Of 61 agencies that the mayors were able to get data on from the FBI, 52 had reported no mental illness records, with nearly all of the 143,579 that were reported coming from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It’s worse with substance abuse — about 90 percent of 12,000 controlled substance records — reports of people caught with illegal drugs — have come from the courts.
“The vast majority of federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Defense and the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps, have not submitted a single substance abuse record,” the report says. The report recommends that Obama issue an executive order compelling agencies to report more efficiently.
The study will be presented at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, where among the witnesses will be Pat Maisch, a survivor of Loughner’s Tucson shooting spree.
Some 50 other survivors of mass shootings will also visit the Capitol to push for better reporting, capping the National Drive to Fix Gun Checks, launched by Omar Samaha, whose sister died at Virginia Tech.
While the Senate will be highlighting the flaws in the gun control system, the House will be acting to loosen gun restrictions Tuesday, taking up a measure that would require states to honor other jurisdictions’ concealed-carry permits.
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