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New FBI Data: Since Newtown, States Have Added More Than Two Million Mental Health Records of People with Dangerous Mental Illness to Background Check Database

December 10, 2015

See An Interactive Map Charting States’ Progress Here

NEW YORK – In the wake of a string of high-profile mass shootings, Everytown for Gun Safety today released a new analysis of FBI data that provides a little-heralded tale of success for public safety: in the last three years, states have largely shored up their protections to ensure people with dangerous mental illness cannot buy firearms from licensed gun dealers.

Data obtained by Freedom Of Information Act request and analyzed by Everytown shows that since the shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, states submitted more than 2.1 million records of dangerously mentally ill people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), more than doubling the number of mental health records. Whereas in December 2012 nineteen states had failed to submit even 100 records to the system, this group shrunk to just six: Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming.

“The evidence is clear that as states submit their mental health records, background checks become more effective at keeping guns out of dangerous hands,” said Ted Alcorn, Research Director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “Sadly, a half-dozen states are still failing to uphold their obligations to public safety, leaving fatal gaps in the background check system. It only takes one gun in the wrong hands to result in tragedy.”

Since 2009, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, now a part of Everytown, has led the gun violence prevention movement in drawing attention to these fatal gaps, diagnosing the bureaucratic and legislative roadblocks to repairing them, and successfully advocating to close them. You can find more information about each state’s numbers on Everytown’s online Fatal Gaps heat map, an interactive tool that tracks every state’s progress.

In parallel with the increase in submitted mental health records, an increasing number of gun sales to people with dangerous mental illness are blocked by background checks. In the most recent years of data (2013-2014), background checks blocked at least 10,932 gun sales to people with dangerous mental illness, more than double the number of sales blocked in the two previous years.

Fatal Gaps 2015

State Mental Health Record Submissions, By the Numbers

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook, states have submitted more than 2.1 million records into the background check system.

The state of Massachusetts demonstrates how effective policymaking can shore up the fatal gaps in the system and make our communities safer. For years, Massachusetts had submitted only one record to the background check system. In August 2014, the state enacted a law requiring courts to submit mental health records to the NICS database. In the year after the law went into effect, the state transmitted more than 11,000 records to the FBI, and the state’s performance continues to improve.

The data highlights success stories in particular states that submitted large numbers of mental health records between January 1 and June 30, 2015 (the most recent state-level data available):

  • Iowa: 12,366 → 32,150 (+637 records per 100,000 residents)
  • North Carolina: 63,802 → 120,899 (+574 records per 100,000 residents)
  • New York: 303,755 → 342,399 (+196 records per 100,000 residents)

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook, the number of states that have each reported fewer than 100 records has dropped from nineteen to six. But the following states have still reported fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS:

  • *Alaska (54 records submitted)
  • Montana (3 records submitted)
  • New Hampshire (2 records submitted)
  • *Oklahoma (51 records submitted)
  • *Vermont (25 records submitted)
  • Wyoming (4 records submitted)

*Notes that a state recently passed record reporting legislation to address missing records

This release is the latest step in Everytown’s history of documenting the missing records that undermine our background check system. In November 2011, the organization released Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers. The first report to detail how missing records in the background check system allow people with dangerous mentally illness like the 2007 Virginia Tech gunman to pass background checks and buy guns, it identified measures that states could take to improve their performance. Closing the Gaps, released in May 2014, showed the progress states have made since 2011. Since the release of Fatal Gaps, 10 states have amended existing laws to get more records into the system and 11 states have passed new record-sharing laws.

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