THE FACTS: Certain types of people are prohibited from buying or owning guns including felons, illegal drug or alcohol abusers, and people who have been adjudicated mentally ill. The only way to know if one of these “prohibited purchasers” tries to buy a gun is by searching the background check system.
Pennsylvania is a “point of contact” state, which means we utilize our own state background check system, in addition to the federal background check system. Neither system is a registry of people who own guns. The background check systems are only a record of people who are legally prohibited from purchasing firearms.
States are supposed to share their criminal records and mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That way, if someone tries to buy a gun in a different state, the dealer will have access to relevant records from all the states.
However, for years, Pennsylvania had failed to upload its mental health records into the national system. When CeaseFirePA urged the State Police and successive PA governors to remedy this problem, we were told there were “technical and legal” difficulties. These difficulties were creating dangerous gaps in the records available to any seller seeking to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
THE GOOD NEWS:
As of late January 2013, Pennsylvania has taken the necessary steps to share those 642,000 mental health records with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. And, according to the State Police, records continue to be uploaded as they are created. By uploading these records, Pennsylvania essentially moved from worst to first in terms of compliance. This was a huge step forward for our state; and it will prevent dangerous individuals from obtaining a firearm.
MORE TO DO? Yes! We need to ensure that these records continue to be shared. There are bills pending in the state legislature that mandates this record sharing and sets time frames for uploading new records. HB 1243 and SB 1052 are important pieces of legislation that will keep PA in compliance.