Guns and the mentally ill


DOVER — In his speech on gun control Tuesday, President Obama called for greater funding to treat and monitor mental illness.

“We’re going to ensure that federal mental health records are submitted to the background check system and remove barriers that prevent states from reporting relevant information,” he said.

“If we can continue to de-stigmatize mental health issues, get folks proper care and fill gaps in the background check system, then we can spare more families the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.”

In that regard, Delaware is ahead of the curve.

A law passed by the General Assembly in 2011 requires the state to maintain records of all residents involuntarily committed by the legal system to a facility for mental health issues.

“We upload information to a federal database that says someone has a serious mental illness so they aren’t able to buy a gun,” said Delaware Department of Health and Social Services spokeswoman Jill Fredel.

Delaware’s database currently holds the names of about 19,500 people, all of whom were judged to be a threat to themselves or others and were not lucid enough to seek treatment, Ms. Fredel said.

Those names are passed along to the federal government, which requires anyone seeking to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer to go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Created in 1998, the system contains a list of people who are barred from having a gun, such as someone convicted of a serious crime.

Delaware’s registry is updated and the new information given to the federal government whenever an individual is committed by the courts.

The state law allows for someone on the list to prove in turn they are competent and able to possess a firearm, and he or she can also appeal to the Superior Court if that initial effort to remove a ban is denied.

Before the state law took effect in 2012, the courts provided names to State Bureau of Identification but the bureau was not mandated to submit the information to the federal government.

Because officials want to encourage people to seek treatment for mental health problems, people who voluntarily commit themselves to a facility are not prevented from gaining a firearm.

Per capita, Delaware is fourth among all states in the number of mental health records provided to the federal government, a fact cited by a spokesman for Gov. Jack Markell.

“Delaware is now one of the states with the best records for reporting required involuntary mental health commitment information into NICS,” Jonathon Dworkin said. “While the state’s reporting of this information in the past four years is already good because of House Bill 48, the president’s pending initiatives … will be helpful.”

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