Millions of mental health records missing from national gun sales database

The WSJ reports that "millions of mental-health records remain missing from the national database that gun dealers use to run background checks on potential buyers," according to new analysis of the federal data by a coalition of U.S. mayors. In the US, people who have been declared mentally unfit are not allowed to purchase guns.


  1. Are the same people responsible for updating those records in charge of providing loans “for any 2nd Amendment purpose” to people finding it hard to finance gun purchases?

    That said, we’ve mentioned guns and the 2nd Amendment.  Let’s speed this commentary along and get crazier and crazier until it’s shut down.  Maybe we can make a record today!

  2. I’m glad the WSJ finally noticed. I wish every local paper who covers a story that ends with “the shooter was mentally ill” would bother to look at their own state. A majority of states America have failed to get the names of the mentally ill into the database. The states have all sorts of lame excuses for why. I wish that the reporters who run these stories should ask the question. Where did the system fall down in the process of getting this person into the database. Then we could seek to fix the problem. 

  3. I have to wonder with all of this talk about registering people that have a mental illness, how many people who are feeling depressed or want to talk to a therapist are nixing the idea because they are afraid of being registered in a police database? The logical course of action would have been to fully fund mental healthcare and try to reduce stigma so more people could get treatment. Instead the government wants to make more registries and further stigmatize mental illness. Normally I would mention the stats on violence and the effects of discrimination on people with mental illnesses. But it is apparent that nobody cares. They just want to tag them and in the future, who knows? Maybe they’ll implant them with tracking chips and shock collars?

    1. Doesn’t work that way at all…and I certainly hope that most folks (or their friends) would have the wherewithal to ask the one or two questions needed to verify this. For gun purchases, “prohibited persons” includes convictees of a crime punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment (or currently under indictment for such a crime); fugitives; illegal aliens; U.S. citizens who have renounced their citizenship; unlawful users of controlled substances; dishonorable dischargees from U.S. military; misdemeanor convictees of domestic violence; persons restrained by a court from harassing/stallking partners or kids; and persons judged (by a court ;-) of mental defect or judicially committed to institutions. (Whew — I think that’s the whole list.)

      While therapists, shrinks, counselors and MDs contribute statistics to industry, academic and government data pools, they do not pass along specifics such as identity..unless they perceive a direct and present danger to the patient or to others. The weight given to individuals’ privacy far outweighs public probing into their mental state. (For instance, I know a partially paralyzed schizophrenic who’s been hospitalized many times for hearing voices, accusing his neighbors of being in league with Satan, making threats against those he felt were in league with that arch-fiend Chopin, etc. But it wasn’t until he caused a massive traffic tie-up with his motorized cart that he was hauled into a court and declared incompetent, which had the side effect of making him a “prohibited person.” He now has a conservator in addition to a case worker, and gets along pretty well.)

      1. You missed my point completely. I wasn’t referring to the procedure on how a person is adjudicated mentally ‘defective’ (which legislators are now trying to make easier). I was referring to the fact that with so many discussions on registering people with mental illnesses in police databases that there is going to be less likelihood a person who is worried about this will go and get help. Do you not recognize that as a problem? How many people who are looking to get help know in detail the laws on involuntary commitment? How many people will worry that simply going to talk to a therapist could put them on a list?

        1. Sorry; didn’t miss your point so much as I shut down my logorrhea before addressing it…Aaron’s tragedy has me really upset. Nutshell: On an ages-old tapestry you have discovered a new-ish wrinkle; and as before, skilled folks will be working to smooth it out to the best of their abilities.

          40-ish years ago I was a teen drug crisis intervention counselor for a county Mental Health Dept. I met my clients in one of two ways — they walked in the door with “just a couple of questions,” or I sat at their bedside while their overdose was being treated. Just about everyone I met with for counseling had reservations that reduced to one or more of these three questions: “What if my neighbor/church/boss/etc. finds out?”; “Am I putting myself at risk of commitment/imprisonment by being here?”; and “What if I find out I’m a monster/incurable/just silly?” (And, up until 1973, we had to ask, “Are you making a bad choice in draft-avoidance methods?” ;-)

          N.B. I say “met with for counseling” above because a huge amount of our time with kids was spent on matters totally outside our “drug crisis” charter — convincing Jimmy that the STD clinic wouldn’t rat him out to his ‘rents; shepherding Jenny through Social Services because “her brother” was being abused by the old man; helping Jerry learn to find peace in the face of his church-crazy parents’ nonstop preaching and drinking; etc.

          These were the bad old Cuckoo’s Nest days of stories — true, rumored, or maliciously false — about people being involuntarily locked away in a ward and Thorazined into oblivion. We would tackle the issue right away, usually with a simple question like, “Does your dog talk to you in complete English sentences? No? Then I don’t think you’ve got much to worry about. So what’s on your mind?” (And if the client’s answer was ever Yes, our response would be along the lines of, “Well, we should maybe think about getting that dog to a vet. But what’s on your mind?” ;-) The actual incidence of involuntary commitment was very small, but the fear of it was very large…and obviously unhealthy.

          So that’s perhaps a good analog to your contemporary question of fears over 3rd-party surveillance. Folks not taking that first step was something we thought about a lot — other than tracking crime/mortality/divorce stats, how could we ever know the number of folks we weren’t able to attempt to help? Well, we couldn’t. That’s why we had multi-layered outreach programs. That’s why we accepted clients anonymously. That’s why we prowled the hangouts; just chillin’, just in case. That’s why we made so many rude jokes about authority figures in our public areas. And we took every bit of advice we could get from those with more experience.

          I haven’t kept current at all, but I still have friends in the biz, and have been in the system myself (depression). These days, patient privacy is pretty much the first piece of business to get handled — anyone who makes (even anonymous) contact with the system will be definitively and compassionately informed of their privacy rights and protections.

          But there are, and always have been, folks who adamantly resist; either as a tool or as a symptom. The specific rationale behind most sustained resistance is, IMO, more an indicator of other trouble rather than an actual problem to solve in itself. And I suspect fears of being placed on a gummint list will be handled today as it was in my day: cross-pollination, where MDs/ministers/teachers/someone-who-is-trusted will work to allay fears and offer hope; professional outreach delivered where it’s (gauged to be) needed in as many forms and media as possible; facts and encouragement offered up by Jane and Duane Plains like you and me when questions arise; and a little luck.

    2. It’s a tough issue. I’d certainly be leery of ending up on a List. On the other hand, there’s mandatory reporting for people with seizure disorders (who suffered fairly universal discrimination until a few decades ago.) I wonder how many people go untreated rather than face loss of driver’s license.

  4. My understanding is that the underreporting of mental illness is related to police that want to show good crime statistics for their areas. Reporting every mentally ill person pretty much blows the stats to hell.

    1. I don’t understand the link between these two metrics, rate of reported mental illness and reported crime rate.

  5. “In the US, people who have been declared mentally unfit are not allowed to purchase guns without inconveniently having to drive a few extra miles to a gun show or other prviate seller.” TFTFY, Xeni

  6. Missing mental health records, so more people appear eligible to purchase guns than should be?  I think this is considered a feature, not a bug.

  7. Gun advocates view the second amendment as a constitutional remedy that protects the availability of weapons to citizens so they can use them to correct, if necessary in their view, elections that have gone “wrong.” Practically all gun advocates are right wing. Therefore, second amendment actions are most likely to take the form of the assassination of elected Democrats and Liberals, as in the case of Gabby Giffords. The problem is, if you are conservative, have a nice family, a nice job, and a nice pickup truck with gun racks in the back and a faithful dog that all depend on you, it’s inconvenient to go to prison for life for killing, say the President, or your state Senator, I mean, that would really put a crimp on that American Freedom that you’re so proud of. It could, maybe, or maybe not, even embarrass you among your fellow church members. What you need is a crazy guy- someone who has nothing to lose- like Jared Loughner, to do your dirty work for you. So what you need to do is to make sure more guns fall into the hands of crazies. Dumping the national database and fighting any and every effort to register or restrict guns, reasonable or otherwise is definitely the way to go.
    These NRA guys are smart!

    1. While you’re speaking in generalities I still feel the need to respond. I’m pro-second amendment (not a gun advocate). I don’t consider myself to adhere to a specific ideology (right or left). Also I’m not particularly religious (at all). I’m also left wondering how you make a connection between the second amendment and assassination. It’s sort of like saying because I believe people should have access to transportation (within reason) I also believe a reasonable use of transportation is to run over other people.

      I think that we shouldn’t limit our freedoms because there are individuals who will misuse those freedoms. Pro-life demonstrators often believe that abortion is misused and therefore should be illegal; I don’t agree with this view either.

      There are of course irresponsible and dangerous individuals who are also pro-second amendment. The conversation doesn’t move forward unless we treat each other reasonably.

    2. The second amendment is about retaining our ability to overthrow the entire government just like the people that wrote the second amendment did.  It is definitely not about being able to assassinate a politician we don’t like. That’s ridiculous and that’s why we have elections – to have a safe, non-violent way to remove people from power.

  8. Mental Illness is an illness, you know, like cancer, or COPD…. It is therefore a violation of HIPAA regulations to give out those records. Plus, being mentally ill, doesn’t make you more likely to be violent, but LESS likely to be violent.

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