As the debate around gun policy and mental health heats up in Colorado and across the country, Representative Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat, is pushing forward with a bill that she says would help keep weapons out of the hands of the wrong people. The legislation would establish real-time data transfer of mental-health records to the authorities that do background checks for firearms.
Unlike some gun-related proposals, this one will likely get widespread backing in the legislature, she says, especially since the delays in record transfers to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation can currently be up to six months long.
The bill is expected to create the legislative framework for one component of Governor John Hickenlooper's plan to overhaul Colorado's mental-health system.
Hickenlooper said he and his staff have been working on that proposal since the summer, prompted by the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, which left twelve dead and dozens more injured. And the plan unveiled last month -- just like comments the governor made regarding the need for a gun-control debate -- was thrust into the spotlight because of the tragic elementary-school shooting in Connecticut.
A lot of his mental-health proposal requires funding and approval from the legislature. Levy says the mental-health component is a no-brainer.
"As the conversation about gun violence develops, it seems everybody agrees that we ought to do sensible things to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness," says Levy, who is also advocating for a ban on guns in college buildings. "In general, this bill is one that I suspect pretty broad, bipartisan support for."
Currently, mental-health adjudication information is sent via CD-ROM from the Colorado State Judicial System to the FBI's Instant Criminal Background Check System only twice a year. This effectively means there can be a six-month delay in getting records to the enforcement agency charged with running background checks for gun purchases.
What Hickenlooper and Levy envision is a real-time data transfer system, in which the information is immediately sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and electronically transferred to the FBI database.
That means the mental-health adjudication information would be immediately available to the CBI and shared with the FBI's background-check system to determine if firearms purchases should be approved.
At the same time, the bill would also allow for immediate transfer of information regarding someone who previously was banned from buying guns but has since had that right restored. Currently, individuals might have to wait six additional months to purchase a gun after authorities give them that approval. The governor, in his proposal, called for the establishment of a statutory process to remedy this as well.
Levy doesn't want to unfairly stigmatize mental illness in the context of the gun-control debate. And she doesn't think her bill does, since those impacted by it include people directly adjudicated by the courts who have been involuntarily committed.
"There has been a determination that they are a danger to themselves or others," she says.
Thus, the bill doesn't get into questions of therapist-patient privilege or the duty of a mental-health professional to report suspicious comments or behavior of a client that could impact their access to guns.
A CBI spokeswoman says preliminary estimates show the proposal would cost approximately $100,000.
Levy adds, "The law already says you can't get a gun if you have a mental health commitment. This is just making sure the data is there to enforce this provision."
Here's a fact sheet from the Colorado Department of Human Services on the proposed changes.
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