Virginia Tech Shooter Was Able to Purchase Gun Because His Records Had Not Been Submitted; See Fatal Gaps Heat Map Detailing State Records Here
NEW YORK, NY – New FBI data released today by Everytown for Gun Safety shows that Alaska ranks among the worst-performing states at submitting mental health records of people with dangerous mental illness to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). While nationwide, states have submitted more than two million records since the shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Alaska has only submitted 53 records, placing it among the six states that have sent in fewer than 100 records since NICS was established more than 20 years ago. 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.
Each record submitted is critical for public safety – just a single gun sale to a dangerous person could potentially lead to tragedy. The shooter at Virginia Tech in 2007 had a mental health history that prohibited him from possessing firearms, but he was able to purchase a gun because his records had not been submitted, and he was able to pass a background check as a result.
“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.”
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 since NICS was established:
- *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.