Experts weigh in on Louisiana mental health reporting for background checks

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A history of documented violence prevented the Lafayette theater shooter from obtaining a concealed carry permit in Alabama. However, his history of mental illness was less as easily traced on paper.

Early reports indicated that John Houser had been involuntarily committed in Georgia, but Carroll County Probate Judge Betty Cason told the Associated Press on Monday that she never ordered Houser committed. However, Cason said in the report that she did order a mental evaluation.

The AP report went on to say that a background check performed by a pawn shop in Phenix, Alabama came back clean.

The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, database is used by gun sellers to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands by flagging people who have a criminal history or serious mental health problems.

"It is up to the state to report these records to the FBI so they're included in the NICS data base. The NICS database is only as comprehensive as the records it contains," explained staff attorney Allison Anderman with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Law experts say gaps in reporting can lead to dangerous situations. Here in Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal held up Louisiana's reporting law as strong example for others to follow.

"We toughened our laws a couple of years ago. If he had been involuntarily committed here, if he had tried to buy the gun here, he wouldn't have been allowed to do that," said Jindal in an interview with Face the Nation on July 26.

Louisiana enacted its law requiring records to be reported to NICS in 2014. The Clerk of Court sends electronic criminal records to the Louisiana Supreme Court nightly. Civil records of involuntary commitment are sent within 10 days of the judge's ruling.

"In many cases they actually fax the judgment itself too just because it has all the information which is more than asked for by the form," said East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court spokesman Fred Sliman.

The Louisiana Supreme Court then passes any appropriate information to the FBI. By law, the whole process has to be done within 25 business days.

However, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence said Louisiana can do more.

"Some states require that records are sent within 24 or 48 hours," said Anderman. "Because a person could by a gun by the 25 days that it takes for state courts to transfer those records to the FBI, it would significantly improve Louisiana's laws to shorten that time."

The Center also pointed out that Louisiana has only reported around 1,700 records in a year and a half compared to Delaware which reported around 20,000 records in just six months.

Still, the Governor's Office said it's confident with its process.

"The law allows for courts to retroactively report mental health adjudications and we are in the process of verifying with the courts and agencies that they are properly complying with the law," said Communications Director Mike Reed.

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