OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is largely complying with federal mental health record-sharing standards regarding people prohibited from owning a firearm, but there are barriers that keep the state from releasing some information, a state official said.
The state meets record-sharing standards in nine of 10 categories of people barred from owning guns, but it will take legislative action to circumvent a state law that doesn’t allow the release of mental health records, she told The Oklahoman for Sunday’s editions.
“There’s a need to make sure that Department of Mental Health can transfer information to the courts,” Fudge said. “And then there’s the issue of the courts. … They don’t have an integrated court management system. So we have several areas of blockage, and we’re trying to address those barriers and move forward.”
Last month, federal prosecutors charged a Woodward teenager who had been committed to a mental institution with unlawful possession of firearms and making false statements with respect to purchase of firearms after he bought a shotgun and a rifle from a licensed dealer.
A taxi driver told authorities the teen asked him questions about how to hide bodies and avoid extradition before and after the deadly movie theater shootings in Colorado.
Federal and state law prohibits the sale of firearms to people who have been adjudicated by a court as mentally incompetent. The teen self-reported his mental health history on a paper form, where he allegedly lied.
According to a 2011 report by the gun control advocacy group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Oklahoma lags behind other states in supplying mental health records to the national database used for these types of background checks. Though federal law attempts to motivate states to submit these records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Oklahoma has only sent three mental health records since 2009, the group reported.
Although the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Department maintains a records database of individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a state hospital, it doesn’t include private hospital records and is only accessible by law enforcement during background checks for concealed carry permit applications.
Federal checks on gun buyers are conducted at the point of purchase by a clerk who runs application information by a NICS operator via telephone.
“It’s basically an honor system, and we don’t have any way of making sure that information is correct or not,” said Mike Blackwell, owner of Big Boy’s Guns & Ammo in Oklahoma City.
Jeff Dismukes, spokesman for the mental health department, said a multiagency task force is working to compile records for the federal database. Oklahoma remains in compliance with federal recommendations because the recommendation was for an accounting of the states’ mental health records, and not the individual records themselves, Dismukes said.
The state has provided the NICS database with an accounting of 37,500 records since the new law took effect, he said. That number represents all of the state’s electronic records that identify persons who have been adjudicated mentally defective, or who have been involuntarily committed to a state mental institution for 20 years leading up to 2011.
“There is a point where states will be asked to transmit additional information identifying individuals, (but) Oklahoma is one of many states currently prohibited by law from providing this information,” Dismukes said.