News & Politics

Big Holes Exposed in NRA's Mental Health Plan

Not that anyone is really that surprised.

Photo Credit: Gigra/

A major flaw in the National Rifle Association's proposal to respond to the Newtown massacre with an increased focus on mental health but no new legislation on guns was exposed during NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's interview on NBC's Meet the Press.

During that interview, LaPierre said that a major flaw in the background check system is that states have failed to input mental health records, allowing people who have mental health issues that would prohibit them from buying a firearm to nonetheless pass a background check. But moments later, he expressed opposition to extending the background check system to all gun sales, maintaining a loophole that would allow the mentally ill to continue to obtain firearms.

From the December 23 interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory:

LAPIERRE: I'll tell you what would work. We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics. ... 23 states are still putting only a small number of records into the system and a lot of states are putting none. So when they go through the National Instant Check System and they go to try to screen out one of those lunatics, the records are not even in the system.


GREGORY: Again, a lot of people would agree with that, there are a lot of difficulties regard to getting that kind of mental health information because there's privacy laws, there are states not contributing to a national registry. Isn't part of the issue background checks? You have 40 percent of sales that go on without any background checks. Are you prepared to back broader background checks if you don't think the ammunition road is the way to go? 

LAPIERRE: We have backed the National Instant Check system, we have backed putting anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent into the system. Now I know where you're going with this. They come up with this whole, "oh, it's a gun show loophole." There's not a gun show loophole. It's illegal for felons to do anything like that, to buy guns. What the anti-Second Amendment movement wants to do is put every gun sale in the country under the thumb of the federal government. Congress debated this at length. They said if you're a -- a hobbyist or collector, if someone in West Virginia, a hunter, wants to sell a gun to another hunter, they ought to be able to do it without being under the thumb of the federal government. 

Reports from the federal government and gun violence prevention advocates have exposed the failures of states to input mental health data into the National Instant Check System, and made recommendations to fill those gaps. But as Gregory noted, even if all mental health records were put into the system, it would have no effect on the estimated 40 percent of firearms sales that are made through private sellers. 

In one recent example, the mass shooter who attacked a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August was legally prohibited from purchasing a firearm because he was under a restraining order, but was able to purchase a handgun from a private seller without a background check. Polls show strong support for requiring a background check on every gun sale, including among NRA members. Even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly supports such a proposal.

LaPierre's example of a "hunter [who] wants to sell a gun to another hunter" ignores the possibility that the purchaser might have a mental illness or criminal records of which the seller might be unaware. And stings have shown that many private sellers are willing to sell firearms even to those who say they would be unable to pass a background check.

Matt Gertz is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America.

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