43 States Add More Than 160,000 Records Into System; See Fatal Gaps Heat Map Detailing State Records Here
NEW YORK – New FBI data released today by Everytown for Gun Safety shows that 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 the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The 161,877 records submitted during that period brought the total number up to 3,538,303, an increase of five percent. Eight states continue to lag behind, however, and have each submitted fewer than 100 records: those states include Alaska, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming. 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 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 been submitted, and he was able to pass a background check to buy his gun.
“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.”
Controlling for population, the largest increase in record submissions occurred in South Carolina, which recently enacted a new law to require state courts to submit mental health records to NICS. As recently as October 2012, South Carolina had 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.
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 and December 31, 2014 (the most recent state-level 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 2014 release of Closing the Gaps, the number of states that have each reported fewer than 100 records has dropped from twelve to eight. But the following 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
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 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.