In all of the conversation about what can be done following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and in Aurora, Colorado, it is clear that most people agree that the mentally ill present a special challenge. One of the first questions is how do people who seem so obviously to be disturbed purchase those weapons? The answer is “it’s complicated”. The vast majority of people who are mentally ill are not violent. But how do we determine who presents a threat? Laws maintaining the privacy of people who struggle with forms of mental illness present one challenge. What records should be entered in national databases defining who is mentally ill and to what degree? Who determines with any consistency what specific records are to be entered, among the states? It is a complex set of factors.
The Washington Post published an article today that highlights the fact that many of the states don’t submit mental health records to the federal NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) which is used by firearms dealers to do background checks. I was surprised (and happy) to see that Michigan was one of a handful of states entering more than 1000 records per 100,000 population and have increased their entry by 4% April to October 2012. There are a variety of reasons that states are not submitting despite requirements to do so. Focusing on getting those records entered at a higher rate seems like a good first step toward protecting our communities.