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.
For once, Rhode Island politicians have a chance at being part of the solution. Even a small change on gun violence would resonate with voters.
As recently as the 2012 election campaigns, the issue of gun control had fallen off the political shelf. A Republican Party dominated by the states of the sunbelt and the Old Confederacy feverishly defended the rights of the gun lobby. Rueful Democrats, especially those in Red states, bowed cravenly to the gun constituency that was universally cited as the club that doomed Al Gore’s 2000 presidential aspirations.