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Sheriffs propose improved gun background checks

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm •  Published: January 23, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Citing a workplace shooting last fall in Minneapolis and other incidents, a coalition of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and others said it's time for lawmakers to strengthen the state's gun-buyer background checks and give people with untreated mental illnesses better access to services.

"Gun control alone will not solve the problem of guns and extreme violence," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said Wednesday. "This has become a public health issue as well as a public safety issue."

Stanek said studies show that people with untreated mental illnesses are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of violent crime. He said several suspects in recent mass shootings nationwide had either a history of mental illness or were believed to have an untreated mental illness. Among them were 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger, who killed six people before taking his own life at Accent Signage in Minneapolis.

"How do we get these folks treatment before they become violent?" Stanek said.

Authorities also pointed to a case earlier this year in Carver County in which a man previously committed as a mentally ill and dangerous person was found with several assault rifles. A criminal complaint said Christian Oberender, who killed his mother with a shotgun in 1995, was barred from owning firearms.

Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson said Oberender, 32, wasn't in the state's system and had managed to get a gun permit last summer.

"Never, and I mean never, should a person who has been deemed mentally ill and dangerous be allowed to purchase a handgun," Olson said.

Jill Oliveira, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said her agency relies on law enforcement and courts to provide data. No information about Oberender was submitted, she said.

The role of mental illness in gun violence has been discussed on the federal level in the wake of last month's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. President Barack Obama's gun control plan involves efforts to increase mental health services, including boosting funding for training to get youth into treatment faster.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota coalition announced its own proposed reforms to address mental illness in the state.

Among the proposals, the group wants to improve a database used to conduct background checks on people who want to own guns. The database, known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, is managed by the BCA and includes information from local law enforcement or courts.

The system is only as current as the information provided by local authorities. The sheriffs are proposing that all factors that would disqualify someone from owning a gun — such as a felony conviction or a mental health court order — be sent to the BCA electronically within 24 hours and immediately entered into the database.

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