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New Louisiana laws aimed at enhancing background checks during firearm purchases

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mental health records to prohibit some Louisiana residents from buying guns mental health records to prohibit some Louisiana residents from buying guns
BOSSIER PARISH, La. (KTBS) -

Of the 25 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, 16 of those happened during a period recently studied by a gun control advocacy group that showed dismal reporting of mental health records by states to the federal government.

The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns has identified what they describe as a 'fatal gap', ranking Louisiana as one of the worst states for reporting mental health records to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database.

The group was created in 2006 by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and ranks states based on population, specifically how many records are submitted per every 100,000 residents.

According to new information released in November, Louisiana is actually tied with Nebraska for the lowest numbers of mental health reports to the NICS database.

Over the last 20 years, the report found that Louisiana has only submitted four mental health records to the NICS, and lacks 38,498 submissions to join the best-performing states.

Texas is one of the best performing states as far as mental health record reporting at 220,203, though the group found that thousands of records are still missing from even the top performing states.

Arkansas sits just above the worst performers with 2,015 records submitted, and 22,659 records still needed to join the ranks of those states that submitted the most records.

But a group of Louisiana lawmakers aims to improve the state's ranking in 2014, as well as improve what they consider to be the safety of the state's citizens.

House Bill 717, Act. No. 403 & 404 provides for the mandatory reporting of convictions of certain offenses which would prohibit people from possessing, shipping, transporting, or receiving firearms pursuant to state and federal law.

The bill makes it clear that the state of Louisiana will continue to protect the rights of its citizens to keep and bear arms, but acknowledges that the reporting of mental health records that would prohibit a person from purchasing a firearm has not been consistent.

KTBS 3 News first exposed the issue of broken background checks in January 2013, with Gov. Bobby Jindal saying that state law then prohibited the reporting of names of those who were involuntary committed.

Rep. Henry Burns (R-District 9) co-authored the Bill 403 with 15 other representatives and a senator, and says this mandatory reporting is an important step in the right direction.

"In fact, there was no method for designating and determining people who are mentally incapable of purchasing a firearm."

Those laws clearly identify which records should be submitted to the Louisiana supreme court and who should be submitting them.

"The clerks that go to court will have to fill out a form once they are out of court to inform the Supreme Court of the individuals who have been committed and cannot carry a firearm," explains Mike Spence, Caddo Parish Deputy Chief Clerk of Court.

Each district clerk of court will be required to report those who have been judicially committed involuntarily to the Louisiana Supreme Court, who will then report to the NICS database.

Act 403 states that some of the other reasons a person may be prohibited from possessing a firearm include the conviction of a felony, the acquittal of a crime by reason of insanity, a court determination that a person lacks the mental capacity to stand trial.

"When a clerk gets out of court, that will be one of their first duties when they get out of court," Spence says.

Spence says 265 judicial commitments were filed in 2013, an average of 22 per month.

And across the state in 2012, the Department of Health & Hospitals reports that 901 people were found by a judge to be mentally incapable of possessing a firearm, a far cry from the four on record.

Now, the clerk of court has 10 days from the date of conviction or adjudication to report to the LA Supreme Court, who then has 15 days of the receipt of the report to hand the information over to the FBI's NICS.

"The quicker we get this done and get it notified to the Supreme Court, it will just assist the public."

And assisting the public, Burns says, is at the heart of these laws.

"I think it's a real bold and necessary step that will make, not only the citizens feel better, but all of us that are in support of the 2nd amendment rights."

The new laws also provide specifics for a person who'd like to petition to re-instate their right to possess a firearm.

Burns says a large part of the bill's strength lies in the fact that people can apply to have their right to possess a firearm re-instated.

This would also be filed through each parish's clerk of courts office after a judge rules that appropriate.

Burns is also reviving a bill to allow off-duty police officers to carry their weapons into establishments that serve alcohol.

The bill died during the legislative process last year.

Under current law, only officers performing official duties can openly carry their firearms into those places.

The bill's first stop is the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice in March.

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