See Fatal Gaps Heat Map Detailing State Records Here
NEW YORK, N.Y. – New FBI data released today by Everytown for Gun Safety shows that Massachusetts is one of eight states across the country that continues to fail at submitting records of dangerously mentally ill people who are prohibited from owning guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Massachusetts has only submitted one record in total since NICS was established more than 20 years ago, leaving potentially fatal gaps in the system designed to keep guns out of the hands of the people with serious mental illness. Today Everytown updated its online Fatal Gaps heat map, an interactive tool that tracks each state’s progress.
Nationwide, over a six-month period from July through December 2014, 43 states and Washington D.C. submitted records of dangerously mentally ill people who are prohibited from owning guns to NICS and the total number of records in the system jumped five percent.
Each record submitted is critical for public safety—just a single gun sale to a dangerous person can result in 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 submitted, and he was able to pass a background check as a result.
“The background check system is the single most important tool for stopping dangerous people from buying firearms and reducing gun violence” said Ted Alcorn, Research Director for Everytown for Gun Safety. “Every new record in the system is a win for public safety, and it is a little-heralded success that states are finally stepping up and closing these fatal gaps. But there is still more work to be done to ensure that every prohibiting record is in the system – it’s long past time for the eight states that are still failing to submit records to fill the fatal gaps in the database.”
As Everytown documented in its 2014 report, Closing the Gaps, states can improve record-sharing dramatically by passing laws that explicitly authorize or require courts and mental hospitals to report records. For example, South Carolina was on the list of lowest-performing states as recently as October 2012, having only submitted 34 records. But from July through December 2014, the state added 23,944 records, bringing its total up to 70,829. The significant increase in recent years reflects recommendations that Everytown made in its 2014 report, Closing the Gaps: States that have taken steps to improve record-sharing have seen tangible results, not just in record submission, but in background check denials to dangerous people. In 2014, 342 gun sales to seriously mentally ill individuals in South Carolina were blocked by background checks, up five-fold from just four years before.
This release continues Everytown’s history of documenting the missing records that undermine the gun safety background check system. In November 2011, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (now part of Everytown) 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 dangerously mentally ill people 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 distance states had traveled 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 altogether new record-sharing laws. During that time, the number of mental health records in NICS has more than tripled and the number of states with fewer than 100 records has dropped from 23 to eight.
State Mental Health Record Submissions, By the Numbers
A few states stood out with large increases in the number of mental health records submitted from July 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014, which is the most recent data available:
- South Carolina: 992 → 1,465 (+473 per 100,000 residents)
- New York: 1,372 → 1,538 (+166 per 100,000 residents)
- Pennsylvania: 5,474 → 5,617 (+143 per 100,000 residents)
- North Carolina: 520 → 641 (+121 per 100,000 residents)
- Virginia: 2,603 → 2,691 (+88 per 100,000 residents)
- West Virginia: 744 → 830 (+86 per 100,000 residents)
Since the 2011 release of Fatal Gaps, the number of states that have reported fewer than 100 records each has dropped from 23 to eight. The following eight states have still reported fewer than 100 mental health records to NICS:
- *Alaska (1 record submitted)
- *Massachusetts (1)
- Montana (3)
- New Hampshire (2)
- *Oklahoma (26)
- *Rhode Island (27)
- *Vermont (24)
- Wyoming (3)
*Notes that a state recently passed record reporting legislation to address missing records.