Firearms, criminal records, mental competency and federal law loopholes have been in the news a lot, lately. The controversy surrounding the ability to purchase guns stems, in part, from the latest mass shootings in our nation. A few weeks ago, this man shot and killed five service members in Tennessee, while this guy rots in jail after murdering nine people in a church shooting rampage.

Increasing gun control has been on President Obama’s agenda since the horrific 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, when a lone gunman killed his mother, 20 children and six school employees. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there are two important developments about gun ownership and background checks that you need to know.

You Don’t Always Need to Pass a Background Check to Buy a Gun

As has been widely reported, the man responsible for the church shooting in South Carolina was sold a gun – despite confessing to an earlier drug possession charge – because of a loophole in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. The NICS is an arm of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that is responsible for verifying background checks for people who want to buy a gun. When a person wishes to buy a gun they need to fill out Form 4473, which includes 16 questions relating to a person’s background, drug use, and criminal history. The gun store then contacts the NICS online or by phone and gives
them the necessary information they need to run a background check.

Federal law allows NICS researchers only three business days to determine whether or not a potential buyer is eligible. If NICS is overwhelmed to the point where they just can’t keep up with volume and the three-day window passes without federal response, the buyer can still legally purchase his gun. This happens in roughly 2% of the checks handled by the FBI.

In the case of the man responsible for the shooting in South Carolina, he was allowed to buy a gun after the three-day window expired because of some miscommunication and misunderstanding between the arresting agency from his drug charge and the NICS.

The way the background check system is used to authorize gun buyers is obviously under immense scrutiny after this failure. It has already prompted at least one piece of federal legislation that would close the loophole. Stay tuned to ActiveCare for updates.

People Receiving Social Security Benefits May Be in Danger of Losing Access to Guns

If you are a Social Security beneficiary whose monthly payments are managed by a “representative payee,” you may face stronger regulations when it comes to gun ownership. The Obama administration has announced it is seeking to prevent these folks from owning firearms if they lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. This article reports the proposed ban
could affect roughly 4.2 million Americans.

The idea is to align the Social Security Administration with the same laws that regulate the NICS (which we mentioned above). If you go by federal law standards, the same Social Security beneficiaries who are unable to manage their own finances may be deemed unfit to own guns because of “marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”

This is a huge hurdle to overcome as there is no definitive record-keeping of who has been declared incompetent and who, of that group, has picked a financial representative. Additionally, the idea of incorporating mental health records into background checks is dicey. Here’s a snippet from a previous post we wrote on the subject:

“Are mental health records typically incorporated into a background check?

Your doctor is legally required to keep information about your medical history confidential, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally off-limits all of the time. Like anything, there are exceptions to every rule but stepping over this line might have serious penalties.

Benton Mobley, Director of Compliance for Active Screening, says he’s never seen anything like a mental health record in the normal course of employment and/or tenant screening. It would have to be a criminal charge or be something else that is listed on a public index, like a criminal record or eviction(s) record(s). Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may frown on mental records being accessed in the normal course of employment screening.”

Do you have any concerns regarding the background check system used for gun ownership? Do you have any concerns that lawmakers may limit Americans’ access to guns by increasing background check regulations? We’d love to hear from you and share your opinions. Leave us a comment below or Tweet us here!

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