Politics

Ga. Bill Boosting Mental Health Records In Gun Database Advances

When people are involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, Georgia adds their names to a federal database. They are no longer allowed to purchase firearms under federal law. However, Georgia keeps their records there for five years. Then the state purges them.
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A new bill, expected to go before the Georgia House on Wednesday, could close a loophole that allows those with mental illnesses to still buy guns.

When people are involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, Georgia adds their names to a federal database. Under federal law, they’re no longer allowed to purchase firearms.

But Georgia keeps their records there for only five years. At that point, the state purges them.

“Then, there’s nothing in the national system to tell anyone that the person’s prohibited from having a firearm,” said Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Keenan said in the last five years the GBI has sent 10,000 records to the federal database. In the same period, the agency had to take back 2,000 records.

Keenan lobbied state lawmakers to change the policy, and the result is House Bill 999 from Republican House Majority Whip Christian Coomer.

It eliminates the five-year purge rule, which Coomer noted would bring Georgia in line with other states. Georgia is the only one with that kind of expiration date on mental illness records.

Coomer’s bill passed out of a Georgia House committee Tuesday, allowing it to head to the floor on Wednesday, crossover day — a crucial deadline for state legislation.

Just one person, Thomas Weaver, testified against the bill. He said he was worried that lawmakers were rushing the legislation.

“I’m incredibly sensitive to what’s happening on the national scale and why the committee would be hearing this in such short order,” he said.

But Weaver said lawmakers should get more input from the public before making such a significant change.

Eventually, the bill will need the approval of both chambers.

Last year, similar legislation, Senate Bill 99, from Democratic state Sen. Elena Parent passed the Senate. It is still pending in the House.