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Background checks: Putting the brakes on mentally ill gun purchases

“We think it’s reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show — no loopholes anywhere for anyone.”

It sounds like a statement that could have been issued by the White House following the shootings in Connecticut. No, it was a statement issued by National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre on May 27, 1999. It followed the slaughter of innocents at Columbine High School.

So now the NRA executive vice president is on record saying that universal background checks will not have participation from criminals or the mentally ill. Perhaps.

However, criminals will steal the weapons they need, or buy a weapon on the black market, which is a criminal element controlled by criminals. So, perhaps he’s right. Criminals wanting a gun will not show up at Mills or Gander Mountain to buy a gun. If gun show background checks are mandatory, they won’t show up there either. However, I haven’t seen too many criminals at any gun shows I have frequented.

However, when it comes to the mentally ill getting their hands on a gun, there might be a means of keeping them away from owning, buying or possessing a gun. If everyone is subject to a background check, one additional question could be added to the questionnaire. In fact, make a box to check, authorizing the licensed federal firearms license holder to check one’s medical records for any mental health issues. This might take a bit longer with an antiquated system that currently does not allow for such a check, but it is possible with all of the information contained in the computerized records of law enforcement and health providers.

Wait a minute, one might protest. Doesn’t that violate current HIPAA laws? “The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information,” states HHS. Perhaps, but by checking a box on the background questionnaire, one would willingly release such information. Unchecked boxes on the questionnaire would cancel the sale. (Keep in mind, the background check would select only information about a person’s mental health care, not one’s entire medical portfolio.)

One might consider this a major roadblock to passage of any legislation that would seek to close that loophole that has allowed several recent mass killings to be perpetrated by persons with documented mental health issues.

Keith Hansen

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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