AUGUSTA – Maine will likely join the growing list of states that change their privacy laws dealing with mental illness to allow the state to provide names of those found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“Maine doesn’t have a system in place that really addresses someone who has been found by a court to be a danger to himself or others,” said Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, the assistant House Majority Leader. He said May 4 that he has convinced the other legislative leaders to allow an after deadline bill, that is still being drafted, that will close the loophole that Maine shares with 27 other states.

Federal law prohibits anyone that a judge has determined as a “mental defective” as well as anyone involuntarily committed to a mental institution from buying a firearm. But, only 22 states are now submitting state mental health records to the federal background check database.

“Sounds like a loophole to me, “said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the co-chair of he legislature’s Criminal Justice committee. “Mental illness and mental commitment is something that people need to know, the state needs to know, that the federal government needs to know when it comes to someone buying a gun.”

Rep. Richard Sykes, R-Harrison, the lead GOP member on the committee, said the state should move swiftly to start submitting the names of Mainers that have been adjudicated with a serious mental health condition to the feds. He said the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech gunman that had been found to be a danger to himself and others by a judge but was still able to buy a gun, shows all states need to participate in the federal program.

“I think that type of information should be submitted to the federal authorities so there is a central repository that can monitor and hopefully avoid a situation like the Virginia situation,” he said.

Rep. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, the House co-chair of the committee, said the panel may fold the issue into another bill they have conforming Maine’s law for the purchase of guns to the federal law. Maine allows sixteen year olds to buy a rifle or shotgun, but the federal law blocks sale until a person is eighteen years old.

“We are looking at conforming to the feds on this one already,” he said.

But, there has been mixed support and opposition to changing privacy laws to allow the state information to be placed in the federal database. Some mental health advocates at the national level have opposed state court mental health findings being placed on the federal database.

While one group, Mental Health America, opposes sharing the information, NAMI-Maine, the state affiliate of that national advocacy group supports Faircloth’s effort.

“People may be sick at one point in their life, but they get better,” said Carol Carothers, Executive Director of NAMI-Maine. “We really believe there needs to be a balance so people can come off the list because people will not always be dangerous to others or to themselves.”

Faircloth agreed and said language in his bill would seek to define who should be reported to the national database and for how long they should be in the database.

The issue also has split gun advocates. The National Rifle Association supports the information being collected by the states and submitted to the national background check database, but Gun Owners of America is opposed to it.

Diamond said Congress should act and require all states to report the data, given today’s mobile society with people frequently moving from state to state. It is estimated that less than one in ten Americans that have been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution is in the federal background check database.

There is legislation before Congress that would provide federal grants to help the states computerize their records for easy submission to the database, and also withhold some crime prevention grants from states that do not comply with the federal law.

“Everyone has got to get on board with this, “Diamond said, “I think we will in our committee.”

Federal law prohibits anyone that a judge has determined as a “mental defective” as well as anyone involuntarily committed to a mental institution from buying a firearm. But, only 22 states are now submitting state mental health records to the federal background check database.


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