A new law takes effect today aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the seriously mentally ill. The state will now begin sending more information to a national criminal background check database.
Anyone who wants to buy a gun from a gun store must submit to a background check. Store owners run the buyer’s information through a few national databases, including the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Until recently, Rhode Island shared only criminal records with NICS.
A state task force is calling for a change in Rhode Island law, saying the state should contribute mental health records to a national background check database called NICS. The firearms safety task force says Rhode Island should provide records only in limited cases in which a person is involuntarily committed by the courts and poses a significant risk of violence.
Records would not be submitted for people determined to pose only a low risk of violence. And the task force says the state should avoid providing any specific information about a patient's diagnosis.
A joint task force is hearing public testimony this afternoon on Rhode Island's compliance - or lack there-of- with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That's one of three national databases gun sellers are supposed to check before they sell you a gun, and it's the one that contains records of involuntary commitment, substance abuse, and other mental health data. The other databases contain criminal records. Rhode Island does not submit mental health records to NICS, and it's trying to figure out whether it can and should.
Is Rhode Island taking steps to join NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System? Perhaps. The General Assembly has passed legislation authorizing the creation of a 20-member task force to explore the "intersection of behavioral health and firearm safety." Here's what it means.
As far as I can tell from the Rhode Island General Assembly's online legislation tracker, not a single bill dealing with reducing firearm violence has made it out of committee. Most have been recommended "held for further study," a kind of legislative purgatory, although some bills could be revived at the last minute.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday on a bill that would allow Rhode Island State College Police to carry guns.
The hearing comes after a scare at the University of Rhode Island about a gunman on campus, and Rhode Island is currently the only state in the country that does not allow armed campus police at public colleges and universities. The University of Rhode Island is also expected to release its preliminary review in the coming days examining how it responded to the report of a possible shooter.
There’s a lot of talk on Smith Hill this week about guns, including several new bills that aim to tighten gun ownership and possession laws. We sat down with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to learn more about how his office is contributing to the gun conversation. One major issue is Rhode Island’s participation in the national gun background check databases.