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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Vermont Lags in Reporting Mentally Ill to Firearms Database

Posted By on Tue, Nov 25, 2014 at 12:11 PM

click to enlarge DAVID JUNKIN
  • David Junkin
Updated at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday to detail a failed bill that was introduced in the Vermont legislature to improve reporting.

Vermont continues to be among the least active states in the country in sending records of mentally ill people to the national firearms background check system.

Federal records show Vermont is one of nine states that have submitted fewer than 100 records of mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which licensed gun sellers must consult before closing a sale, according to a recently released report from the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety. 

Vermont has submitted only 24 records in 20 years to the NICS system, which has 3.7 million records total, "leaving potentially fatal gaps in the system designed to keep guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill," the group said in its report. 

In 2007, a man who had been declared mentally ill by a judge shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech. The record of his mental illness was never sent to NICS, and the shooter purchased firearms after passing the background check.

Nationally, the number of mental health records submitted to the NICS has tripled in the past three years, Everytown for Gun Safety said. In the past year alone, several states have passed laws designed to boost their reporting to NICS.

A South Carolina law to improve reporting that was passed in 2013 has prevented at least 136 firearms sales to mentally ill people, the group said.

Several Vermont state senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears and Senate President John Campbell, introduced a similar bill late in the last legislative session.  It would have required the Department of Mental Health to report all relevant cases to NICS. But the bill was never taken up after it was assigned to the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare


Of the eight other states that, like Vermont, have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records, five — Alaska, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota — have passed laws designed to improve their reporting system.

Customers at licensed firearms dealers are required fill out a form that asks whether they have been "adjudicated as a mental defective or ... committed to any mental institution," which includes people found insane or incompetent at trial, and those involuntarily committed to a hospital.

Firearms sellers then call NICS, located in West Virginia, to verify that the customer does not have a criminal record or is otherwise disqualified from owning a gun. But the federal government cannot require states to send information about rulings of mental illness to the NICS database.

In 2012 alone, more than 36,000 background checks were conducted in Vermont using the incomplete database.

Gun control advocates in Vermont have discussed lobbying the state to tighten its reporting requirements, but no official proposals have emerged.


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Mark Davis

Mark Davis

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Mark Davis is a Seven Days staff writer.

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