LEWISTON — Since 2011, the number of mental health records reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System has increased dramatically, helping block the sale of firearms to people with serious mental health concerns.

But many states, including Maine, have failed to significantly change their laws to require more reporting to NICS.

And now, some of the staunchest pro-gun politicians are calling for increased reporting in the wake of recent mass shootings in the United States — crimes where mental illness is considered a contributing factor.

This week, Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a Republican candidate for president, called on neighboring Alabama to increase its mental health reporting to NICS. Louisiana increased its own reporting requirements in 2013.

In 2012, Maine was among the states ranked by the national group Mayors Against Illegal Guns in a report that showed the state reported only 35 mental health records to NICS, when more than 11,000 should have been entered into the system.

Jindal made his statements Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in the wake of a movie theater shooting that left three dead, including the gunman, and nine wounded in his home state.

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The shooter bought his gun in Alabama after that state had previously denied him a concealed weapons permit because he had been charged with domestic violence and soliciting arson.

A judge also ordered the shooter to a psychiatric hospital in Georgia in 2008, although he was never forced to go — which should have also triggered a red flag had the information been reported by that state to NICS.

“Every state should make sure this information is being reported in the background system,” Jindal said. “We need to make sure that background system is working. Absolutely, in this instance, this man never should have been able to buy a gun.”

Alabama, like Maine, is among the dozen states that have made little or no changes to its reporting laws despite new federal funding that was made available by Congress following the Sandy Hook School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

Jindal went on to say, “Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure the systems we have in place actually work.”

Local gun control advocates said Monday that Maine would be wise to heed Jindal’s advice and increase its reporting of mental health and other information to NICS.

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Larry Gilbert Sr., a former Lewiston mayor and city police chief and a longtime supporter of stronger gun laws, said he thinks requiring a 24-hour waiting period to purchase a gun and universal background checks for all gun sales also makes good sense as well.

“How can you say that someone passes a background check when you don’t even have all of the information yet?” Gilbert asked. He said it was good that Maine did appear to be making some progress, but also questioned whether the state was still keeping pace with that reporting.

A former U.S. marshal, Gilbert also noted that state and national polling data shows a broad majority of voters — including most gun owners — support tighter gun controls for the mentally ill.

He said the reason the U.S. hasn’t done a better job at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill or those with violent criminal pasts is simple.

According to the latest data available, Maine did increase the total number of mental health records sent to NICS to 2,357 in 2013 — but gun control advocates say the state also lost ground by doing away with its concealed weapons permit requirement, making it among only a handful of states that allow citizens to carry hidden weapons without training and criminal or mental health background checks.

“We’re actually going backward,” Gilbert said. “Now there will be no training requirements at all for somebody to carry a concealed handgun.”

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That law change will go into effect in October.

“To me, it comes down to a lack of courage by elected officials,” Gilbert said. “It is more important for them to keep their job than it is to do the right thing in keeping people safe.”

And while Maine is among the states that created a so-called RFD, or a Relief from Disabilities program that allows prohibited people to petition, when appropriate, for restoration of their gun rights (which was a requirement of the federal law that provided funding for increased mental health records reporting) the state is still about 9,000 records short of the mark when it comes to those facing mental health concerns.

Messages to the office of Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage seeking comment on whether LePage supported Jindal’s views on the issue were not returned on Monday.  

Increased mental health reporting in other states has prevented thousands of people from being able to purchase firearms, but large cracks in the system still make the U.S. vulnerable, according to gun control advocates like the national advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety.

Increased reporting, as required under new state laws, has more than tripled the number of  mental health records reported to NICS, going from 1.1 million in 2011 to 3.4 million in 2014. And, from 2010 t0 2013, the number of people who were denied permission to purchase a firearm under NICS increased by 65 percent nationwide, going from 1,292 denials in 2010 to 2,932 in 2013.

Based on NICS data available with the FBI online, more than four million people nationwide are currently prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm because of a mental health issue that’s been confirmed by a court of law.

About half as many, or 2.1 million individuals, are on the denial list because of previous criminal felony convictions. Another 119,140 are prohibited from owning a gun because of a domestic violence conviction.

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