In the wake of Sutherland Springs, there was a concerted push to fix the NICS system. After all, the killer in that massacre was someone who shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun, but he passed the check anyway. He shouldn’t have, but he did.
However, the effort to fix it also included a lot of language about mental health as well.
That introduces a few problems, though. As it is, mental illness is stigmatized to a significant degree in this world. While those who have mental health issues should seek help, many may not if they fear their illness might make them ineligible to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
In Wyoming, a recent bill that would require certain mental health records to be turned over to NICS was defeated.
The legislation would have required the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation to submit certain mental health records to a federal database used for background checks while purchasing firearms. The bill, which failed by a 9-5 vote, essentially mirrored federal legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump in the 2018 budget.
Introduced in the wake of a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the legislation – entitled “Fix NICS” – was intended to capture people with severe mental illnesses who might otherwise be missed by the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System: a seemingly easy fix for those who say that mental illness, not access to guns, is the main driver behind mass shootings in the United States.
However, many argued the bill unfairly stigmatizes mental illness and could have been a precursor to a “Red Flag Law,” which allow law enforcement to intervene and seize someone’s firearms in the instance the owner could present an immediate danger to themselves or others – a process critics say robs gun owners of due process.
Which is a very fair point.
No one really thinks the bill would magically morph into a red flag law, mind you, but once people become comfortable with mental health information being used for this kind of thing, it’s not difficult to see them become far more willing to accept a red flag law coming to pass in the state.
Of course, there were other concerns.
Some in Wyoming – like Sheridan-based mental health expert Paul Demple – criticized the Fix NICS legislation as a law based on fear, rather than fact, telling the Sheridan Press in August that the bill is based on a “pervasive and misleading national rhetoric that all mentally ill people are dangerous,” according to the newspaper. Others have argued that the language of the bill is overly broad, and could open the door for greater, more restrictive regulations down the road.
In written testimony, Marti Halverson – a Republican and a former member of the Wyoming House of Representatives – asked whether some of the requirements to report could include the turning over of temporary mental health adjudications, or could commit Wyoming to provide any records the federal government deems necessary under future administrations.
Even if it didn’t obligate Wyoming to provide that information, it could well set the stage where something like that was simply the “next logical step,” as future lawmakers may argue it to be.
Killing the bill makes sense.
Look, no one wants legitimately crazy people to be walking around the streets with the ability to slaughter folks wholesale. Luckily, there’s already a mechanism to prevent that from happening anyway. We can already adjudicate people as “mentally defective,” an archaic term that still denotes those who are unsafe to allow to have weapons.
If someone represents a threat, use that process. Stop trying to expand the list of people who can’t own guns artificially.
I’m glad Wyoming did just that.