Why isn't Georgia following gun laws? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Why isn't Georgia following gun laws?

July 17, 2007

Albany - - Ever since the massacre at Virginia Tech, it's been a topic of debate. Should people with mental illnesses have access to guns? States are supposed to report the names of people with serious mental illnesses to the FBI, but the FBI says many states, including Georgia, aren't doing that.

Some fear that could translate into easy access to guns for people who shouldn't have them. In Georgia, it's simple. If you're committed to a mental institution or a court says you're mentally defective, you can't buy a gun.

"A lot of the people that we sell to we don't know them other than the 30 minutes were in here so if they can act straight for that long, then that's all it takes," says Jason Sheffield at Dawson Road Pawn.

He has to complete a background check on a person before he makes the sell. That background check only consists of a couple simple forms. It asks a person if they've had a mental illness.

"Obviously some people won't answer it truthfully," he says.

And they could still get that gun.  Here's the problem, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires states keep a list of names to be included in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Turns out, only 22 states are following the law and Georgia is not one of them, according to the FBI. Congress has approved an act to step up enforcement by giving states financial assistance. Now, the Senate is considering the measure. But some advocates for the mentally ill feel it may be too little too late.

"One state's database does not talk to another and the FBI is involved in all of this. The FBI database is not connected with all the different states so we have all these different states, all these different databases and none of them are communicating," says Sue Marlowe of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

She says they're not against the enforcement but feel certain measures need to be added to ensure fairness.

"A lot of mental illness is recoverable. Op to 80 % can recover from a mental illness if they get proper treatment, so should they always be doomed to never having a gun and being able to go shoot skeet or hunt or whatever, I don't believe that."

On the other hand, some gun dealers don't want to take the chance and end up responsible for another Virginia Tech fiasco.

"I would definitely rather not sell the gun especially knowing that something like that can happen," Sheffield says.

But first he says, Georgia needs to get in line with a national law created to keep us all safe from harm. 

Advocates for the mentally ill worry the database could discriminate against some people who pose no threat to others. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System Improvement Act would help states automate their records to help them comply with the law.

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