EDITORIAL: Hole in gun laws permits mentally disabled to purchase weapons
A weakness in Oklahoma’s gun laws is allowing unfit individuals to purchase firearms. Oklahoma is failing to provide critical mental health information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System used in retail weapons sales. Instead, Oklahoma residents report mental status themselves on a form, which cannot be independently verified.
Oklahoma must immediately begin reporting mental health to the system so that firearms dealers can easily comply to state law.
State law prevents the sale of firearms to people Oklahoma courts have ruled mentally incompetent, but gun buyers can easily forge background check forms to obtain a weapon.
Woodward, Okla. teen Timmy Dean Eike admitted to doing exactly this when he purchased a shotgun and rifle earlier this year, according to NewsOK.com. Eike was able to obtain the weapon and ammunition despite being institutionalized twice for mental health concerns.
Eike was arrested after a taxi driver reported some unusual questions Eike asked about hiding bodies and foreign extradition. Federal agents seized Eike’s guns and Eike admitted to lying on the form, according to federal investigators.
Eike’s case is special. It is special because he got caught, not because he was able to obtain the weapons in the first place. Asking people previously deemed mentally restricted by a court to report on their own mental health on background check forms is negligent and dangerous.
Oklahoma is not alone. Mental health restrictions are not being reported by nearly half of all states affected by national guidelines. “An estimated 3 million Americans have been committed involunarily to mental health facilities, but the federal database contains the names of about half of them,” according to NewsOK.com.
Some of the opponents of mental health requirements in background checks cite a lack of consistent standards in determining mental function. Courts have varying qualifications for mental handicaps and mental health cases are often judged on a case-by-case basis. But the requirements for mental health restrictions are similar to criminal restrictions. Judges and juries, who draw on expert psychological evaluations as evidence, most often determine mental competency.
Restrictions on mental competency are not very different from restrictions based on criminal activities. Background checks include violent and nonviolent criminal offenders and should also include mental competency.
Just as we do not trust individuals with a history of felonious activity to carry firearms, we should not trust those with histories of court-ruled mental health problems to own dangerous weapons.
Not all people who have been declared mentally unfit will become violent but some will and this standard protects against that possibility.
We encourage you to urge the Oklahoma Legislature to pass legislation to mandate reporting mental competency to the national background check database.