Lawmakers look to include mental health checks for gun purchases

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Updated: 3/20/2013 9:15 am Published: 3/19/2013 8:46 pm

Oklahoma lawmakers are debating whether to require more thorough mental health background checks before buying a gun.

The House passed a bill to add records to a national database that's designed to keep guns away from those with mental issues.

Local gun shop owners say having more access to the mental health records could cut their sales, but say it could save lives.  

Pat Johnston and Bob Wallace own Broken Arrow Gun Shop and estimate they sell about 100 guns a month, but they say they don't always know enough about who's buying the weapons.

Johnston said, "Right now, folks can come in here and buy a gun from us that may have significant mental health problems, that is a real concern that I have."

He showed FOX23's Janai Norman the one page form customers fill out to buy a gun. It asks whether you've been found to be what's known as "mentally defective" in court, and then it's reviewed by the FBI.

Right now in Oklahoma, it's up to prospective gun buyers to give that information, forcing companies to rely on buyers to be honest and forthcoming.

"If they don't have access to that person's background and someone who has had mental problems checks 'no I haven't,' then the FBI won't know it," Johnston said. "And they'll go ahead and approve the application."

Federal and state laws ban anyone who is "mentally defective" from buying a gun, but Oklahoma does not submit mental health records to the national database. Wallace says that's a constant worry.

Norman asked, "does it ever cross your mind, what if this person has a mental health issue?"

"Yes," Wallace began. "And we have had people with mental health issues come in and we have refused to sell them firearms."

Wallace and Johnston say local police officers have tipped them off to information the database wouldn't have otherwise picked up.

"That's very scary," Wallace says. "It gives me lots of cause for concern."

But a local psychotherapist says the measure may not ease all of those concerns.

Dennis Cavenah raises the question, "What constitutes a severe mental health disorder?"

He says the bill is too vague.

"The literature shows most people with even severe mental health diagnosis are not dangerous, so that's kind of a myth."

The Centers For Disease Control estimates nearly half, 46.4%, of all adults have some diagnosable disorder in their lifetime. Cavenah says that's often controlled with the right treatment.

"It doesn't necessarily make you more dangerous than any other person."

Even a mental health disorders have been linked to recent deadly shootings, Cavenah says this new bill wouldn't have made much difference.

"The one's I've been reading about, most everybody knew about them, but they had never actually entered into the health care system to get the appropriate help."

Still, Johnston says access to mental health records would be a safe move.

"If they've had mental problems in the past," Johnston says, "If they can't think rationally, I don't want them having a gun."

Cavenah questions who would have the final say in decided which mental disorders are included in the database, and which harmless gun buyers are denied.

"There's a difference between people who have asocial, socio-pathic or criminal behavior, and people who have chronic mental disorders," Cavenah says. "I think there's a difference."

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

Mayor Maynot - 3/20/2013 8:29 PM
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