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Oklahoma continues to lag in submitting mental health records to federal database

Though concealed carry permit applicants are checked against a state mental health database, gun sellers must rely on the honor system when asking purchasers mental health questions.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: August 13, 2012

A Woodward teen whose alleged murder plans were thwarted by a cabdriver last month might have had more difficulty acquiring his weapons if Oklahoma was in full compliance with federal mental health reporting recommendations.

State officials said they are in fact meeting those recommendations, despite strict privacy laws and the lack of an integrated state court management system.

“We have been trying to move that forward in terms of a bill and we haven't made much progress yet,” said Delynn Fudge, federal grants division director for the Oklahoma District Attorney's Council.

Fudge said the effort hasn't necessarily been rejected, but that it doesn't seem to be a priority issue for some.

Eighteen-year-old Timmy Dean Eike was able to buy a shotgun and rifle from a licensed dealer in July despite twice being ordered to inpatient mental health treatment.

Federal and state law prohibits the sale of firearms to persons who have been adjudicated by a court as mentally incompetent. Eike self-reported his mental health history on a paper form, where he allegedly lied.

The form remains the only significant barrier to the legal acquisition of guns by those who suffer from the most serious of mental illnesses.

“On the criminal level, they're doing a fantastic job with those checks, but there needs to be a database of people that are adjudicated mentally defective and it needs to be checked on the state level,” said Mike Blackwell, owner of Big Boy's Guns & Ammo in Oklahoma City. “Those are the people we really have to be concerned about.”

Falling behind other states

Oklahoma consistently lags behind other states in supplying mental health records to the national database used for these types of background checks, according to a 2011 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national gun control advocacy group.

Though federal law attempts to motivate states to submit these records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Oklahoma has only sent three mental health records since 2009, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Texas, by comparison, has sent nearly 200,000.

An estimated 3 million Americans have been committed involuntarily to mental health facilities, but the federal database contains the names of about half of them.

Fudge said the state meets federal record-sharing standards in nine of the 10 categories of people prohibited from owning a firearm. The release of mental health records, though, explicitly is barred by state law, she said, and so it will take legislative action to circumvent that.

“There's a need to make sure that the Department of Mental Health can transfer information to the courts,” Fudge said. “And then there's the issue of the courts. ... They don't have an integrated court management system. So we have several areas of blockage, and we're trying to address those barriers and move forward.”

Federal law since 1968 has barred individuals who have been involuntarily committed or adjudicated mentally unfit from buying guns. New federal reporting recommendations were passed after a gunman with a state-documented history of mental illness killed 32 people in 2007 at Virginia Tech.

Adjudicated mentally defective means a court or other lawful authority has determined the 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.

Status unsubstantiated

Though the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department already maintains a records database of individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a state hospital, it does not include records from private hospitals and it is only accessible by state law enforcement during background checks for concealed carry permit applications.

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