Missourians differ on mental health checks for gun buyers
COLUMBIA - After gun-related tragedies such as the church shooting in Charleston or the theater shooting in Colorado, some people immediately begin to question the mental health of the killer. In many states, including Missouri, mental health records are not a part of the required background check on gun buyers.
Stephen Wyse, a Columbia attorney said there are some problems with pre-sale background checks, which are done using a federal data base of crime records maintained by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Wyse said the state and federal government share responsibility when those checks fail.
"There are a lot of problems with states reporting to the NCIC," Wyse said. "The database is not as up to date as it should be. And frankly, the federal government could take a much more aggressive approach in getting states to report information."
Jim Hill, who works at a Columbia gun store, is not bothered by the state of the NCIC. He said he feels there is nothing that can be done to fix the background checks.
"You're dealing with a federal agency," said Hill. "They call the shots."
However Wyse believes there is a lot that can be done. He said Missouri can make background check more effective by taking better data of all gun-related incidents, everything from commercial gun sales to shots fired by police in the line of duty. He said the the state cannot solve any problems unless it has detailed numbers on which to base decisions.
"I think reasonable information helps make informed decisions," Wyse said.
But both Hill and Wyse beleive adding health records to the standard background check will do more harm than good.
"With regards to mental illness, there are a few reasons why you wouldn't want someone seeking mental health treatment to have to be denied," Wyse said. "For one, it could discourage a lot of people, who might otherwise get mental health treatment, from doing so. It would increase the stigmatization of people getting mental health treatment. I think that would be counterproductive to societal goals."
"Everybody has problems," Hill said. "If you took everybody who's ever taken an antidepressant, a lot of the population couldn't get a gun anymore. It's good that people are going to the doctor to get help. Don't punish them for that."
Hill said the greatest "gun-related" threat to the public is people who purchase guns for others who are not allowed to purchase them on their own. Wyse said he feels the same way.
"If you know someone is prohibited from buying a firearm themselves, you cannot buy a firearm to transfer to them," Wyse said. "Whether it's a gift or something else. That is a prosecutable offense."
Hill said the justice system is often too easy on people who illegally supply guns to others. He said, if the lawyers were more consistent in prosecuting the offense, there would be less gun-related crimes.
"It's actually a felony to supply a gun to somebody who can't legally acquire one," Hill said. "So they should be prosecuted."
Hill said gun retailers carry an extra burden of responsibility when selling a gun. He said, even if a potential customer passes the initial background check, the salesperson still needs to assess the situation for anything "fishy."
"You come in intoxicated, we won't sell you a gun," Hill said. "You come in and we smell dope on you, we won't sell you a gun. Even if you pass the background check. If we smell something wrong, we won't sell. Every family-owned store in Columbia is probably that way."