A federal database that tracks people prohibited from buying a firearm may soon include the names of Oklahomans with certain mental health issues.
A bill that would require the state's county court clerks to submit to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System the names of those adjudicated mentally incompetent has passed the House and is awaiting Senate approval.
Monday, the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police announced it also would support the inclusion of the state's mental health records in the federal background check database system.
“In many of the instances that have occurred around the country where there have been mass shootings (the shooter) has at some point or another been diagnosed as mentally ill,” said Norman McNickle, association president and director of public safety for Stillwater.
“We just think those records are important to keep guns out of the hands of people who aren't supposed to have them.”
Federal and state law prohibits the sale of firearms to people who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent, but Oklahoma is among several states that does not currently submit its mental health records to the database.
Adjudicated mentally defective means a court has determined a person is dangerous to himself or others, lacks the mental capacity to manage his affairs, has been found incompetent to stand trial or has been found insane by a court in a criminal case.
Federally licensed firearms dealers are required by law to run the names of gun purchasers against the national database at the point of sale.
The database also keeps the names of other prohibited persons, such as felons.
But Oklahoma has only sent three mental health records to the federal database since 2009, according to the national gun safety group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Texas, by comparison, has sent nearly 200,000.
Because of strict privacy laws, mental health conditions are currently only self-reported by prospective gun purchasers in Oklahoma, Martin said.
House Bill 1240 would work around those privacy laws by requiring court clerks, and not the state's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, to track and submit those records.
“And there is a procedure in the bill to apply for reinstatement,” he said. “I have not had a cross word from anybody. Now, I haven't had people jump on it, it's not something that the (National Rifle Association) has been down here working on, but I'm sure they're aware of the bill, and if they had a problem with it, they would.”
The push in Oklahoma for better mental health record-keeping reflects legislation being pushed nationwide in the wake of the school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead in December at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Among the list of gun-control proposals outlined by President Barack Obama in the wake of that shooting was a pledge to address barriers to mental health reporting to the federal database.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the database currently hosts 1.2 million records despite an estimated 3 million people nationwide who would not qualify to own a firearm because of their mental health history.
Delynn Fudge, federal grants division director for the state's District Attorney's Council, said Oklahoma meets federal record-sharing standards in nine of the 10 categories of people prohibited from owning a firearm.
Compliance with the mental health records category, she said, would help further secure a federal grant that brought the state $2.6 million last year alone.
“We've been working on this a couple years now, and it's kind of finally coming to the place we want it to be,” Fudge said.
“When you introduce a new concept, it doesn't always happen the first year, so you keep at it, you talk to enough people that your concept takes hold.”