The Iowa Attorney General’s office wants to join other states who report the names of the mentally ill to the federal government to stop them from buying guns, but advocates for the mentally ill have some concerns.
Julie Muckler, a lobbyist for the A-G’s office, says they started research on the bill about five months ago and it was brought about by the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. Muckler says the Virginia Tech gunman had been involuntarily committed by the courts and was not eligible to buy weapons under federal law. But at the time, Virginia was not reporting the names of the mentally ill to federal officials. Iowa doesn’t report the names either.
Ross Loder of the Iowa Department of Public Safety says prior to the Virginia Tech shootings, few people knew the names of the mentally ill in the legal system had not been reported to the federal database called NICS, for National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He says there were quite a large number of states that were not sending the information and some had good reasons, such as Iowa where sending in the information is not allowed under state law.
Loder says this bill would allow the release of those names while still providing some privacy protections. Federal law bans all names reported from being able to purchase a weapon, which has Iowa advocates for the mentally ill upset. Jim Obradovich is a lobbyist for the Iowa National Alliance of the Mentally Ill.
Obradovich says a mother who suffers post-partum depression, and then drinks and goes into the legal system, wouldn’t be able to go deer hunting. "That’s just too darn broad," Obradovich says. State Representative Eric Palmer, a Democrat from Oskaloosa, is a lawyer in his other job where he’s seen the mentally ill dealt with in the legal system. Palmer says it’s not always the most dangerous that end up involuntarily committed.
Palmer says a lot of people enter the system just to get treatment, so he hates to see the names sent into the federal system when only a handful need to be sent in. Iowa could submit a partial list of names, but a public safety spokesman says those who were not submitted could unknowingly break the law with a weapons purchase. Muckler says even if the bill passes, it’s not going to stop all gun violence by the mentally ill.
Muckler says there’s no way to prevent all of the problems, they’re just trying to prevent what they can. The bill failed to pass its first hurdle in the Iowa House, and is now up for further study. A new law signed by President Bush offers some federal money to help states comply and threatens to withhold crime-fighting money for states that don’t comply. The bill’s supporters say the real penalty could be a tragic shooting in Iowa by someone who is mentally ill.