Report: Maine shares few mental health records for background checks

Associated Press

Rick Brand, Chief Operating Officer of Amendment II, shoots a 9 mm pistol into a children's backpack, left, fitted with an anti-ballistic insert, during a demonstration at a gun range on Wednesday in Taylorsville, Utah. Anxious parents reeling in the wake the Connecticut school shooting are fueling sales of armored backpacks for children, as firearms enthusiasts stock up on assault rifles.

When it comes to sharing mental health records with safety officials for gun background checks, Maine is among the worst performing states, according to a national group promoting gun control.

In the wake of 26 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 committed by a man believed to have mental health issues, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns on Wednesday urged President Obama to do three things: Get high-capacity rifles off the streets, require every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check and make gun trafficking a federal crime.

Last year, Mayors Against Illegal Guns issued a report on how each state did providing mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

That November 2011 report said Maine had submitted 35 mental health records but should have submitted 11,078 records.

Maine member Bill Stokes questioned that 11,078 number, calling it too high. Stokes is the mayor of Augusta, is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and has prosecuted murder trials as chief of the Criminal Division of the Maine Attorney General's Office.

Stokes and Larry Gilbert, the former mayor of Lewiston who was a Mayors Against Illegal Guns member, said Wednesday that more needs to be done to prevent those who shouldn't have guns from getting them.

Providing only 35 mental health records for background checks is a “lousy” performance, Gilbert said. It's time, he said, to worry less about individual rights and focus on protecting society.

There are costs to freedom to ensure safety, such as when people fly on a commercial airplane. “We had a shoe bomber, which means now everybody has to take off their shoes. We have people on a no-fly list, yet they can go out and buy a gun,” he said.

Protecting the public is the first responsibility of elected officials, he said. “I'm all for people having guns to go hunting and target shooting, but to have these high-capacity clips on assault rifles, they're not necessary. Government has a responsibility.”

Under existing laws, the Maine court system is required to send mental health records to the Maine Department of Public Safety, then to the federal NICS, in three cases: When the court has involuntarily committed a mentally ill person, when a person has committed a crime and been found not responsible because of mental illness, and when the court finds a person not competent to stand trial.

“Those records are supposed to be sent to the Maine Department of (Public) Safety, who reports to the FBI,” Stokes said. “This information needs to be submitted.”

But the law wouldn't cover others suffering with mental illness, even if they've been hospitalized, who haven't dealt with Maine court's system, Stokes said.

In addition, the state law says the courts are not required to transmit records without sufficient funding. Federal funding was anticipated, but "that has not materialized,” he said. “The dilemma in this law is that it creates an out.” The Maine Department of Public Safety “is working to try to comply,” he said.

Maine's record-sharing law went into effect in 2009. According to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns report, state lawmakers and the Department of Public Safety have disagreed about what other kind of mental health records should be submitted to NICS.

Also, Maine lacks an electronic reporting infrastructure for civil or criminal records, the report said, and the state is exploring applying for federal grants to improve the background check system.

The top advocate for the mentally ill in Maine said Wednesday that the state's law leaves out many mentally ill, and the number who are violent is small.

“Most people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators,” Carol Carothers, executive director of the Maine Chapter of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said. That said, Carothers added, when active states of psychosis and substance abuse are combined, “those are predictors of rates of violence.”

In Maine, one in four people wrestle with mental health problems, which is more than 200,000. “Three percent of those have serious mental health issues, and a small percentage of that three percent is in psychosis,” Carothers said.

For NAMI the debate is not about gun control. “It's about early access to preventative mental health services,” Carothers said. “That's a complex discussion.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

KRIS KUCERA's picture

Every country has the mentally ill, lots of 'em.

But no country has nearly as many guns as ours, or the ridiculously easy access to them. The number of guns is, in fact, the problem. Less guns means that crazy nut jobs would have less access them. To deny that fact is purely delusional or a wonted disregard of statistics, probability, and common frickin' sense.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-the-solution-to-gu...

 's picture

actually, it just means that

actually, it just means that the first person killed will be the guy whose gun that the crazy nut job wants, as has been the case time and time again.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

YES!

Too many guns and easy access to them by the insane. Less guns = less death by guns. Simple.

Jennifer Chretien's picture

Too many people in our

Too many people in our society don't value mental health services. When programs like Medicare and Maine Care need to save money mental health services are often the first services that are cut. When this is the case you generally don't hear many people standing up to support these programs. Let's say it was suggested that these programs were going to to cut access to chemotherapy to save money the outrage would be felt around the world. Now I'm not saying or suggesting we cut cancer treatment, my point is where is the concern for people who need mental health services when those programs are cut?
There is still a huge stigma around mental illness. People are afraid to ask for help because of what others may think of them. Some worry that if their employers find out they might lose their jobs. We, as a society don't talk much about mental health until something like Newtown, CT happens. Then all the stereotypes and negative attitudes start coming forward. We as a society have to start valuing everyone! People who have mental illness can be productive members of society if given the chance, that means they need access to treatment and they shouldn't have to fear being looked down upon. People with other illnesses don't face this kind of stigma, why do those with mental illness have to deal with it?
I'm going to go out on a limb here; I have a mental illness. I have been dealing with it for I'd say 15-20 years. It has taken it's toll, I am on Social Security Disability. However after many years of very hard work on my part I have been able to work part-time for the last 4 years. Without the support of mental health providers I would not have been able to make the progress I have made.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Mental health

I think if someone's first impulse, when they hear that 20 small children have been ripped apart by a war weapon in their first grade classroom, in a Norman Rockwell American town, is to go out and load up on war weapons, they should be having their own mental health check. At the very least, they seem to have been standing behind the door when God passed out the humanity. If the best they can do to make this world a better place, when they watch 26 American families burying their babies and their moms and sisters for Christmas instead of opening gifts, is to go out and buy bigger clips and more lethal bullets, then they should get a genetic code check because theirs does not seem to be related to anything human . I remember, years ago, when we used to pray for Peace on Earth at this time of year. Maybe it would be a good time to haul out that old chestnut and some people should be looking into their own hearts to see if there is a human being in there instead of spouting old NRA rhetoric.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Bravo, Claire!

Peace on Earth.

GARY SAVARD's picture

I agree Claire, but if the

I agree Claire, but if the principal at Sandy Hook had been armed when she bravely went after the gunman, even with a lowly 10 shot 9mm, maybe the outcome would have been different. We'll never know, but the shooter did take his own life the instant he heard the police sirens at the school, which means he ended it the moment he was confronted by anyone capable of biting back. We don't necessarily need all the firepower legally available, but I would not recommend bringing a chestnut to a gunfight, either.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Mental health again

Considering the principal would be unlikely to leave a loaded weapon sitting around her desk or walk around the school and greet visiting parents with a holster, she probably would have had to retrieve her gun from a locked location, found bullets loaded it and been dead anyway. I don't object to having an armed police officer in the schools. There was one in my school. That too can have issues. But since even the police responders who showed up at the school were outgunned by this shooter, there is a good chance several of them would have also been killed before they killed him, had he chosen to keep going. The folks who are loading up on war toys right now are not protecting themselves against criminals since crime has never been lower in this country, even in New York City. They are not protecting themselves against the government since at this time it's so ineffective it can barely get out of its own way. They are protecting themselves against the folks who are now upping their arsenal. Many of them are seniors or baby boomers who will be dealing with dementia in the next ten years. There is also an entire generation of 20 somethings who had so little impulse control coming up through school that they needed "focusing meds" to get through the day. Once they get past 20, they often have no access to meds, phsychiatrists etc. and their parents are no longer able to monitor their treatment. Just these two groups, armed to the teeth, pretty much guarantee that this latest massacre is just the beginning.. Already this president has visited 4 gun massacre sites in the short time he has been in office. We can expect there will be many more unless something is done.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I know, I do have some dumb ideas, but.....

We all know, that people who own and use weapons legally, such as myself, obey gun laws. If they doubled the gun control laws tomorrow, we may not be to happy, but we would oblige. We also know, there are millions of illegal gun out there, untraceable, and easy for criminals, or anyone to obtain for a small price.
I've read story after story, seen news show's beginning to end, preaching the banning of weapons and ammo clips is the only solution. Anyone knows and we have seen in the past few days that banning or even discussing banning something just boosts sales of that item thru the roof. We also know that all these feel good ideas, will have little affect on the criminal component already out there. One angle to this problem I haven't heard discussed, and I feel it would be of great value in controlling all guns legal and otherwise. Its the common denominator, the one thing every gun anywhere, legal or not needs, Ammunition...

FRANK EARLEY's picture

I did it again, hit the wrong key, to early in the AM....

I feel that ammunition would be much easier to regulate. You can't ban ammunition but tight regulation such as not allowing ammunition thru the mail, and registering all ammunition dealers and only allowing registered dealers to sell ammunition and bulk black powder, for the do it yourself type. maybe it would somehow help spot potential problems before they occur, and make registered dealers responsible for knowing who is buying their ammunition. I, as a legal gun owner, would rather see that restriction, and even be willing to pay a little more. As compared to having all these banned weapon frenzies going on, like everything else once you start, there's no stopping it. I just think it's worth looking into........

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Banned weapons frenzies?.......

There was a ban on automatics but the ban was allowed to expire. That stopped that. So what do you mean, "once you start, there's no stopping it." ?

And, why are you afraid of banning weapons that have only one purpose - to kill.? How many kids will it take with holes in them the size of grapefruits? How many more mass murders are you willing to accept?

And why is it men, by and large, are the ones quivering at the thought of less killing ability?

FRANK EARLEY's picture

You need to read the post.....

I'm sorry if I appear to oppose the ban on any guns. The fact is, bans on assault rifles or any other weapons won't work. The only ones who benefit from a ban is the manufacturers. The sales sky rocket.
Unfortunately at times like this, emotions go thru the roof. You obviously read my post, you just chose to ignore the subject of my post. Instead you just saw the few lines that triggered your anger button. The basic premiss of my post was that by heavily regulating ammunition, as apposed to the fruitless banning of guns, tragedies like Newtown, may be seen ahead of time. All guns, from "Saturday night Specials" to AK47's will kill in the right hands. There is one common denominator that connects these weapons. Many more guns need to be silenced, not just The obvious ones. What can anyone do that will affect all the guns out there? Restrict their access to ammunition. Without ammunition, an AK47, becomes a scary looking paper weight. I was just offering another avenue to silencing these guns, not promoting the rights to own one.....

Brent Gammon's picture

New gun laws wouldn't have prevented this tragedy.

"In the wake of 26 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 committed by a man believed to have mental health issues, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns on Wednesday urged President Obama to do three things: Get high-capacity rifles off the streets, require every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check and make gun trafficking a federal crime."

None of these things will prevent what happened at Sandy Hook. Those guns were legally purchased. Stop using this horrible tragedy as an excuse for political purposes and deal with the real issue here: mental health.

 's picture

the unfortunate reality is

the unfortunate reality is that had this man's mother called a psychiatrist the day before the killing and told them that she had concerns about his behavior leading to violence, she would have been told that nothing can be done until he does something. this could have been prevented, but no one listens to families. they just claim that people are uneducated and full of hate and prejudice.

JOANNE MOORE's picture

"Political purposes" ???????????

What is political about this? Please enlighten us. Or else you are just a mouthpiece for the NRA? They say the same thing, over and over. I still don't believe this has anything to do with politics. It has to do with the supposed rights of some to have the ability to kill other human beings.

Brent Gammon's picture

It's political because both

It's political because both sides are now fighting over gun control laws instead of focusing on an obviously mentally ill person who murdered many innocent people. I do not own a gun, but I realize the truth; you cannot possible keep guns out of the hands of someone who is intent on getting one, either legally or illegally. If you ban guns completely, the only people that will have them are the criminals. I don't see how tragedies like this can be prevented by fighting over laws.

James Andrews's picture

gun rights

There are already state and Federal laws against gun trafficking, we ALREADY have the background checks to deal with, etc. The politicians are reaching for straws, instead of dealing with the real issue here, which is the failures of our mental health systems across the nation. This is what they should be concentrating on-this, and enforcing existing laws already on the books. Not taking away more of the rights of law abiding citizens!

JOANNE MOORE's picture

Background checks?

At gun shows, for instance? LOL.

And what gives anyone the right to own a Bushmaster?

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