|August 5th, 2007, 04:54 PM||#1|
Join Date: Mar 2007
article on gun background checks in MD (Carroll Co. Times)
The two stories below, dealing with gun-related background check requirements in Maryland, appeared in the August 5, 2007 edition of the Carroll County (Md.) Times. I have posted separatedly a third article from the same edition, dealing with right-to-carry legislation in Maryland.
Va. Tech shootings stir debate
Mental health of shooter raises concerns about permit requirements
By Heather Cobun, Times Staff Writer
The Virginia Tech shootings in April thrust debates on gun control back into the spotlight.
People were asking how someone whom a Virginia Court found mentally defective was allowed to purchase firearms despite the required background check. This information should have stopped the purchase, according to Associated Press reports.
The answer, it appeared, was that the court that deemed Seung-Hui Cho a threat to himself or others didn’t report the information to the right database quickly enough.
Cho killed 32 people and then himself at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University on April 16.
Since the shootings, state and federal governments have been analyzing ways to improve the way police and courts report their records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, an FBI-regulated series of databases that aid gun dealers in determining whether a prospective buyer is restricted from purchasing a gun.
FBI spokesman Steve Fischer said the more records in the system, the more accurate the background check process can be.
A May 9 open letter to the states’ attorneys general from the U.S. Department of Justice said that as of April, only 22 states had submitted any mental health information to the system, and only four of those states regularly report such information.
Lisa Wright, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-District 6, said an attempt to fix this has been made in the House of Representatives in the form of House Resolution 2640.
The National Rifle Association-backed resolution, called the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, passed the House by a voice vote with only one dissenter, Wright said.
The resolution would provide federal funding to states for the purpose of improving their reporting of mental health records to the NICS.
The resolution also included a timeline for sanctions if states do not report a minimum percentage of records by predetermined dates.
Having passed the House, the resolution is now going to the Senate.
Locally, however, members of the Maryland State Police are taking action to make sure they have the most accurate mental health records possible when conducting their background checks.
Beginning Aug. 1, anyone wishing to purchase a firearm from a federal firearm licensee in Maryland was required to sign a release allowing the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide their mental health records to the police.
The police told gun dealers that any application submitted without the signed release would be immediately denied, according to Fred Kirchner, owner of Fred’s Firearms LLC of Chestertown.
Capt. Greg Shipley of the state police said that in the past, the police have relied on court records or citizen reports to determine if a buyer or applicant for a handgun permit was a danger to himself or others.
If someone was judged mentally defective in a court, the state has access to those records. However, without court documents, it was often friends, family members or neighbors who called the police and informed them that an applicant had a history of mental illness.
The release will allow the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to report any records the state has relating to a person’s mental health history, including treatment in state facilities, according to DHMH Director of Public Relations Karen Black.
The release only applies to state records and not to those of private institutions, Black said.
Shipley said the information that could be gained from these records would go a long way toward keeping handguns away from those who should not have them.
Background check is requirement for gun permit
By Heather Cobun, Times Staff Writer
It takes more than money to purchase a handgun in Maryland; you must also pass a background check.
In Maryland, a handgun sale cannot proceed until the gun dealer runs the buyer’s name through the National Instant Criminal background check System.
The NICS is an FBI-regulated series of databases specific to the purchase of firearms. The system was created by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.
FBI spokesman Steve Fischer said the system includes three databases, two of which contain thousands of criminal records and warrants.
The third is a catch-all for any remaining factors. This database, the NICS index, contains records of citizenship, mental health and any other information related to firearm background checks that does not have its own separate database.
Maryland is defined as a partial point of contact state when it comes to handgun checks, meaning gun dealers call a state police representative who checks the same NICS databases the FBI would use, Fischer said.
He said that before the creation of the system, states had to handle their own background checks without the aid of a national system and had difficulty obtaining records from other states. Now one phone call searches thousands of records electronically.
He said 92 percent of inquiries are completed within a couple of minutes.
Gun dealers will be informed, usually within a few minutes, whether they can proceed with the sale or if a red flag has come up in the search, Fischer said.
However, a red flag does not necessarily mean the buyer is restricted.
Fischer said that occasionally there is a record of an arrest or of a criminal charge but no followup report of the outcome. This might happen, for instance, if the charges were later dropped.
These “open-ended” records, as Fischer called them, require the buyer to contact the agency that filed the record and prove that the incident was resolved and the applicant is not restricted from purchasing a firearm.
Also, because the NICS checks records based only on a name, not fingerprints, Fischer said there could be cases of mistaken identity. This occurs if someone with a similar name and Social Security number has a criminal record that comes up during the prospective buyer’s background check.
If this occurs, the buyer must prove that the record belongs to another person.
The FBI also conducts a background check when someone applies for a permit to carry a handgun in Maryland, but the agency uses a different system.
The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System compares a submitted fingerprint card to its database of criminal records.
Fingerprint checks with the FBI can take longer than running a name through the NICS, and the entire Maryland permit process takes approxomately 90 days, according to the state police.
This process is separate from purchasing a handgun, which involves only the NICS check and a seven-day waiting period. A handgun permit is not necessary to purchase a handgun.
The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and NICS check similar records, but the IAFIS uses fingerprints for added accuracy.
Fischer said the process is almost entirely electronic, but occasionally an analyst will have to sit down and compare fingerprints by hand.
Maryland handgun permit applicants can have their fingerprints taken at a state police barrack where the service is offered, and the 10-print card can then be turned in with the permit application, Shipley said.
The state police receives the results of the FBI fingerprint check within 35 to 40 days, and during this time they are conducting a background check of their own and verifying that the applicant is justified in requesting a permit based on Maryland law.
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