Kieckhefer says existing system to keep guns from mentally ill needs teeth
January 25, 2013
Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer of Reno says Nevada has a system designed to keep guns from those diagnosed as dangerously mentally ill but that it isn’t being properly enforced.Kieckhefer said the situation is particularly difficult in Northern Nevada, where there were 601 petitions from psychiatric professionals to involuntarily commit potentially dangerous individuals in 2011 but only seven court-ordered commitments. In 2012, he said there were zero court-ordered commitments out of 583 petitions.There is a three-day waiting period while a background check is performed on a prospective gun buyer. Under existing law, only when a court orders involuntary commitment does a person’s name get forwarded to the National Instant Criminal Background system that tells gun dealers whether the buyer can legally buy a firearm.“Because they weren’t adjudicated, these people were never put into the book,” he said.The situation was nearly as bad in southern Nevada where psychiatrists petitioned courts for 1,953 commitments in 2012 but got a judge’s approval in just 237 cases. In 2011, there were 178 commitments out of 1,619 petitions filed by mental health professionals saying an individual was a danger to themselves or others.Kieckhefer said state and federal laws have been in place for years to stop the potentially dangerous mentally ill from buying firearms. “People suffering mental illness who pose a danger to themselves and others should be prevented from buying guns,” he said. “I think the people of this state expect the intent of this law to be enforced.”He said the majority of those facing a petition for commitment suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression as well as drug or alcohol addiction.“The fact that not a single person from northern Nevada was put into (the background check database) last year under this category is shocking and demonstrates all too clearly that the current system isn’t working,” he said.Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said there is a lot the process that needs refining and fixing. “The big gaping hole is in mental health,” he said, adding that his jail is packed with people who have obvious mental health problems. “You have to go to the courts to find out,” said Furlong. “It’s not because they’re not being referred. It’s all a court issue. Why are they not being adjudicated?”He said a major disconnect is that, while mass murderers are routinely found to have serious mental problems, most aren’t in the mental health system.“These shooters are just below the radar,” he said. “How do we get ahold of these people, find them?”Kieckhefer said one thing he’s considering is to have individuals listed in the background investigation database when a psychiatrist petitions to have them committed instead of requiring adjudication by a court. He said that would require a process to get their gun rights restored.“A critical component of the law will continue to ensure there’s an avenue for individuals to have their Second Amendment rights restored when appropriate for that individual’s safety as well as the safety of the general public,” he said.Kieckhefer said he is still working with the courts, law enforcement, mental health professionals and others to “create a law that will work for Nevada.” He said he has been working on the proposal for more than two months.