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New FBI Data: Number of Prohibiting Mental Health Records in Federal Background Checks Database Jumps Nearly 10 Percent


New FBI data released today by Everytown for Gun Safety shows that over a seven month period, forty-three states and Washington D.C. submitted records of dangerously mentally ill people prohibited from having guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Controlling for population, the largest increases can be found in three states that all recently enacted or amended their record reporting laws – Nebraska (+948 per 100,000 residents), South Carolina (+800), and Minnesota (+740).

Nationally, the number of mental health records in the system jumped nearly 10 percent between March 31 and October 31, 2014, from 3.4 million to 3.7 million. Each record submitted is a victory for public safety: just a single gun sale to a dangerous person can result in tragedy.

However, many states continue to lag behind. Nine states have each submitted fewer than 100 mental health records. Those states are Alaska, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Several of those states (detailed below) have new record reporting laws on the books; the others must act immediately to pass such laws, as must Arkansas, New Mexico, Utah, and the District of Columbia. Today Everytown updated its online Fatal Gaps heat map, an interactive tool that tracks each state’s progress.

This release continues Everytown’s lengthy history documenting the missing records that undermine the background check system. In November 2011, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (now part of Everytown for Gun Safety) released Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers. The first and seminal report to detail how missing records in the background check system allow dangerously mentally ill people like the 2007 Virginia Tech gunman to pass background checks and buy guns, it identified measures that states could take to improve their performance.

In March 2014, Everytown updated the research and released Closing the Gaps, which documented steps that states have taken to improve record-sharing in the intervening years. Measures that Everytown has advocated – including strengthening laws that require courts and mental health facilities to share records with the background check system, and increasing federal funding to support record submission – have yielded tangible results. For example, since South Carolina passed an important law in May 2013 to submit mental health records into NICS, the state has become a top performer in record submission. In that time, at least 136 gun sales to dangerously mentally ill individuals have been blocked and another 161 concealed carry permits have been denied or revoked for these individuals.

Since the release of Fatal Gaps, 10 states have amended existing laws to get more records into the system and 10 states have passed new record-sharing laws altogether, including two states in the last six months – Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Also, federal funding for this effort increased from $18.5 million in 2013 to $58.5 million in the FY 2014 budget.

As a result, the number of mental health records in NICS has tripled and the number of states with fewer than 100 records has dropped from 23 to nine.  And by 2013, with three times as many records in the system, 65 percent more dangerously mentally ill individuals who tried to buy guns were blocked from purchasing them compared to just two years prior.

State Mental Health Record Submissions, By the Numbers

A few states stood out with large increases in mental health record submissions between November 30, 2013 and June 30, 2014, which is the most recent set of data available:

  • Nebraska: 7,581 –> 25,110 (+945 per 100,00 residents)
  • South Carolina 9,116 –> 46,885 (+800 per 100,000 residents)
  • Minnesota 12,129 –> 43,771 (+588 per 100,000 residents)
  • New York 218,487 –> 268,607 (+256 per 100,000 residents)
  • Pennsylvania 676,968 –> 698,733 (+171 per 100,000 residents)
  • Virginia 201,365 –> 213,097 (+143 per 100,000 residents)

Since the release of Closing the Gaps, the number of states that have reported fewer than 100 records each has been cut by a quarter, from 12 to nine. But the following states have still reported fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS:

  • *Alaska (1 record)
  • *Massachusetts (1)
  • Montana (3)
  • New Hampshire (2)
  • *Oklahoma (25)
  • *Rhode Island (0)
  • *South Dakota (3)
  • Vermont (24)
  • Wyoming (4)

*Notes that a state recently passed record reporting legislation to address missing records.