Millions of mentally ill people could pass a gun background check today, because many states simply don't bother submitting mental-health records to the FBI, according to reports today in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Thanks to a 1997 Supreme Court ruling, states don't have to share their records, and various costs and legal hurdles make opting out an attractive option. The vast majority of records come from just 12 states, with 19 states providing fewer than 100 records; Rhode Island has shared none.
There are gaps in the record for other prohibited buyers as well, including people with histories of drug use or domestic violence. And if an FBI background check takes longer than three days, dealers are free to make the sale, and many do. Since 2005, 22,162 guns have been sold to people later determined to be disqualified, but the underfunded ATF tracks such buyers down infrequently. "The background check system still looks like Swiss cheese," says the head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. (Read more Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms stories.)