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April 16, 2014

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State senator: Nevada mental health patients can still buy guns

Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 | 3:43 p.m.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer

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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  1. I notice the article is completely silent on why the patients were not entered up until now. Could it be laws blocking this? or a lack of funding?

  2. So I did a little more research in the RJ and fish wrap and got a little more detail (note to Sun writing staff). This legislator is complaining that people who have had hearings and been adjudicated not a harm to themselves or others can still buy guns (he seems to believe that the accusation of mental illness is what should determine suitability). I can't help but wonder how he would feel if we applied the same standard to the suitability of our elected officials (remember retardation could be considered a mental condition).

  3. Senator Ben Kieckhefer - you can thank the NRA for that action.

    The NRA also opposes micro printing. This is where a microscopic ID number is put onto the head of the gun's firing pin. Spent ammunition can be identified with the gun used in the crime about 95% of the time.

    The NRA does not want guns used in crimes to be identified. They prefer all gun IDs to be anonymous. They call this "2nd Amendment Rights", the right to commit a crime and use the Constitution to eliminate evidence. The NRA and Taliban have a lot in common.