Nevada mental health patients involuntarily committed to state psychiatric hospitals are rarely being added to a federal database that would restrict them from purchasing firearms, a state senator said Thursday.
State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said the rate in which those committed are included in the federal database is "shockingly low and reveals a total system failure."
"Individuals suffering from mental illness who pose a threat to themselves or others should be prohibited from purchasing a firearm," Kieckhefer said in a statement. "Federal and state laws have been in effect for years to enforce this restriction. Unfortunately, here in Nevada, they are almost entirely unused."
Kieckhefer, who formerly worked as a spokesman at the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said he is working with courts, law enforcement and mental health professions to draft a new law for the 2013 Legislative session which begins Feb. 4.
He said in an email that the intent of the law is to prevent not only those involuntarily committed to an institution from buying gun, but also those who, in the opinion of a psychiatrist, pose a danger to themselves or others.
"Many of these people are held for more than a week, treated and released before they ever get to their scheduled hearing," he said. "They were never formally committed by the judge, but have basically the same situation."
In 2011, just 178 of the 1,619 individuals psychiatrists filed petitions with the court to commit into the state's public mental hospital in Las Vegas were added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That system, known as NICS, is used in firearm sales to check whether someone is allowed to purchase a weapon.
In 2012, 237 of the 1,953 petitions at Las Vegas' Rawson-Neal Hospital triggered a listing in the system.
The failure to restrict state mental health patients' ability to buy a firearm is even more severe in Northern Nevada. Not one of the 583 court-ordered petitions for commitment at Dini-Townsend Hospital in fiscal year 2012 resulted in a listing on the federal registry.
Only seven of the 601 petitions for involuntary commitments in 2011 resulted in the information being transmitted to the federal government.
Mental health patients' access to guns has become a focus since the Newtown shooting in Connecticut, in which 20 children and six adults were killed in an elementary school.
This story has been edited to clarify that the statistics are based on petitions for commitment to a mental health facility.
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