PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A task force created by Rhode Island lawmakers to study the use of mental health records in firearm background checks looked to Connecticut Thursday to see how its neighbor balances public safety with mental health privacy.
Rhode Island laws currently prohibit the state from providing mental health records to the national firearm background check system. Most states provide the records in an effort to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable individuals.
Members of the Connecticut State Police told the panel that while information about a person being committed to a mental hospital is used when approving firearm permits, authorities don’t see the details. Authorities see that the person isn’t allowed to have a firearms permit, but not the specific reason — whether it is because of mental health issues or some other reason.
“We don’t get the records,” said Lt. Eric Cooke of the Connecticut State Police.
Rhode Island lawmakers say they want to find ways to keep guns away from potentially dangerous people, but without going too far. They also don’t want to discourage someone from seeking help with a mental problem because they worry about losing their right to own a gun.
State Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey, D-Exeter, a co-chair of the task force, noted that Connecticut has an “elaborate” system to ensure that a person’s mental health privacy is protected — and that such a complicated system would require not only changes to Rhode Island law but also a government system to operate it.
The panel was created last year following the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn. It was initially expected to submit its findings to the General Assembly by the end of the month, but members said Thursday they may need additional time.
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