TUCSON — A state commission has voted unanimously to support efforts aimed at providing local law enforcement greater access to mental health records of people purchasing guns from dealers.
In its vote Thursday, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission also said it would work toward improving the reporting of information that might restrict a person's ability to own a firearm.
Arizona law enforcement officials currently have no access to mental health records of people they stop for traffic infractions or those seeking to retrieve a seized gun, among other instances, the Arizona Daily Star reported (http://bit.ly/YKfWCv) Thursday.
Under current state law, the federal government has access to mental health records of Arizona residents for gun background checks, but the information cannot be shared with local law enforcement. Arizona also only reports a portion of required mental health records related to people who have been involuntarily committed, but the state does not report on people who have been found by a judge to be incapacitated or incompetent for mental health reasons.
State officials estimate that only about 10 percent of Arizona's relevant mental health records make it into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
Despite the commission's vote, efforts aimed at bolstering the state's reporting and access to information about a person's mental illness could be stymied by a lack of funds.
The newspaper reported that Gov. Jan Brewer's state budget did not include funds to support the effort.
Board members acknowledged that no state funds had been promised to push the plan forward.
Commission program manager Pat Nelson has estimated the cost of implementing the recommendations at about $28 million.
The vote by the board also included a condition that state law be clarified to ensure that felons who have had their rights to own a gun restored are able to pass a federal background check to purchase a weapon.
The recommended changes include improving databases used for protective orders, mental health records and warrants, creating a system to keep track of how well counties are updating their records and providing technical assistance for the needed computer upgrades, among others.
State officials said some holes in the record-keeping that need to be fixed include adding negative drug-test records into the database.
For instance, a person isn't eligible to own a gun under federal law if they failed a drug test in the past year or were arrested within the last year on a drug charge.
"It is our understanding now that Jared Lee Loughner failed a drug test when he was trying to enter the military," said project consultant Anthony Coulson. "He technically would have been a prohibited possessor" of a gun.
Loughner was sentenced in November to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, in the 2011 Tucson shooting outside the grocery store that left six people dead and injured 13 others, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.