How A Georgia State Law Loophole Allows Mentally Ill To Buy A Gun

How A Georgia State Law Loophole Allows Mentally Ill To Buy A Gun

Thousands of people who had been involuntarily committed to mental health care treatment centers in the state of Georgia were registered in the national database gun dealers utilize when running background checks on prospective buyers. Georgia removed many of those records due to a state law which requires a record of a person being involuntarily committed to a mental health institution be removed after five years in the national database. Because of the law, Georgia adds hundreds of records of mentally ill people while simultaneously deleting hundreds more that reach the five year mark, without any sort of approval from a doctor or ruling by a court.

According to federal law enacted in 1968, an individual is banned from buying or possessing firearms for life if they have been committed to a mental institution. Despite the federal law, the state of Georgia is undermining the ability for the law to be enforced.

“I’m always scared when I’ve ordered somebody to be evaluated,” Athens-Clarke County Probate Court Judge Susan Tate,  told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview, who is also the Georgia contact for the National Criminal Background Check System. “Even if they haven’t been hospitalized, I wouldn’t want any of those people to have a gun.” Judge Tate added in an op-ed she wrote for the Athens Banner Herald in Georgia after the October 2015 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, “Although people assume they can trust our background check system, the truth is that there are huge gaps of information missing from our national and state databases which are accessed when someone attempts to buy a weapon or to obtain a weapons-carry license.”

There are also other loopholes which allow the mentally ill to purchase guns unabated. If a person voluntarily commits themselves to a mental health institution, even if a court rules a person must receive a mental evaluation, no record is reported to the national database. John Russell Houser legally purchased the gun he used to shoot up a movie theater during a screening of the Amy Schumer film, Trainwreck, in Lafayette, Louisiana because of this loophole. A judge in Georgia ordered Houser to be psychologically evaluated in 2008, but no record was ever submitted to the national database because Houser voluntarily committed himself.

As several states across the country have been enacting laws requiring universal background checks, those reforms to diminish gun violence are ineffective if states allow loopholes to persist which undermine the effectiveness of the national database.

Featured Image by Edward Lynn (derivative work; sources: 1, 2) public domain.
Facebook image by B. Rosen, (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Freelance Journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. Binghamton University Alum

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