Harrisburg Patriot News | January 23, 2011
Pennsylvania must start sharing its mental health records with the federal government to assure that a resident with serious problems cannot buy a gun in another state.
Sadly, it now stands as one of 13 states that does not do so.
In the wake of the shooting in Tucson, it seems more important than ever that states are able to access each other’s records on people prohibited from buying guns.
Right now someone who is legally barred from purchasing a gun in Pennsylvania because they are deemed to have serious mental health issues can go across the state border and do so.
Last week, when asked by staff writer Nick Malawskey about the problem, the Pennsylvania State Police said the commonwealth will begin sharing its information “in the near future” and the reason it has not happened yet is because of difficulties getting state and federal computers to link information.
That answer is not good enough. Especially if you consider that state lawmakers moved to get Pennsylvania on the instant-check system in 2008.
It also isn’t good enough if you consider the federal government offers grants to assist states in modernizing their instant check system so they can work with the federal system.
To say the least, this is a dangerous computer glitch. An estimated 454,000 people, roughly 3 percent of the state’s population, according to the Brady Center, a national gun-control advocacy group, are disqualified from buying guns in Pennsylvania because of serious mental health issues.
But nothing is in place right now to stop anyone on that list from driving to a neighboring state to purchase a firearm, and if they move to another state there is no record that follows them.
The good news is that if someone considered too dangerous to own a gun tried to buy a handgun in another state, they likely would not be able to because a licensed Pennsylvania dealer must complete the transaction.
But there is nothing stopping someone from purchasing a rifle, for example.
State governments must do whatever they can to protect their citizens. For Pennsylvania, this means finding a way to quickly connect information on people who should not purchase guns with the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Certainly after what happened in Arizona, the time to blame computer glitches is over.