Checks for gun buyers to now include hundreds of thousands more Pa. mental health records

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After facing legal and technical challenges for more than two years, Pennsylvania State Police this week began transmission of hundreds of thousands of state mental health records to a national database used to conduct background checks for gun buyers.

Lt. Col. Scott Snyder, deputy commissioner of state police, said today that 643,167 mental health records were sent to the National Instant Check System, an FBI-run database, on Tuesday.

An automatic upload program was tested Thursday night, but there was a glitch. He expects it to be fixed in the near future, he said.

The records represent people ineligible to buy guns because they were involuntarily committed.

The state police said their records have been held up since mid-2011 because they were awaiting a ruling from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as to whether 302's, the most common type of involuntary commitment, would preclude someone under federal law from buying a gun.

But according to state police, ATF has never responded to their inquiries, though ATF said its officials have spoken to state police.

An ATF spokeswoman said today that the 302 statute is still under review by the bureau.

Bureau representatives could not be reached for immediate comment today.

In October, state police received an email from NICS with an attached ATF opinion declaring the 302 records federally prohibiting. An ATF official followed up with a phone call to a state police lieutenant saying there was still no definitive opinion on 302 records.

Lt. Col. Snyder said because ATF has been incommunicado since then, state police are working under the assumption that the opinion they received in the October email is valid.

Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for NICS, said states can make their own determination as to what is qualifying.

He said Pennsylvania's records would not be rejected.

"There is no decision at this time that the records are not qualifying so the NICS Section would have no reason to disallow the submission," he wrote in an email.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 and on Twitter: @MoriahBee.


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