January 27, 2013

Courts will start to obey gun law

Despite a lack of funds, Maine will begin reporting to the FBI those who are forbidden to own guns.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks before firearm sales.

In 2007, Congress passed a law that allocated more than $1 billion to help states transmit mental health data to the FBI, but because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, the law was written in such a way that only 18 states qualified for funding, said Owen Greenspan, director of law and policy at the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics. Congress over the years has drastically cut back on funding for the program, he said.

Many states other than Maine have also struggled with this issue. From 2004 to 2011, nearly half the states made little or no progress in sending mental-health records to the FBI, according to a federal Government Accountability Office report. Maine was among the states identified as making no progress.

Because the Maine law passed in 2007 differs somewhat from the federal law, Maine, like most states, did not qualify for federal funds, Jordan said.

Under Maine law, for example, only people who are committed to a mental institution through a judicial process can lose the right to own a gun. The federal law does not require a judicial ruling.

To date, Maine has not provided the FBI with any names of people who have been involuntarily committed.

It has provided the names of people in two related categories: those found not criminally responsible for a crime by reason of insanity, and those found not mentally competent to stand trial. The two groups represent a relatively small number of individuals.

Maine law prohibits the state from passing on personal information, such as a mental illness or other diagnosis. It also provides an appeal process for those who lose their right to own a gun and who subsequently regain their mental health.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

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