Last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., could bring new attention to the Department of Justice's earlier recommendations that the U.S. strengthen an FBI database used to screen gun purchasers, the New York Times reports.
DOJ made the recommendations last year following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others at a Tucson supermarket.
However, most of the recommendations were shelved as the presidential campaign heated up and as Congress conducted a politically charged investigation into a high-profile gun trafficking case (Savage, New York Times, 12/15).
About the Database
The database is designed to prevent people with serious mental health conditions from purchasing firearms.
The database includes the names of people who have been found by a court or other authorities to be a danger to themselves or others. Names of people who have been involuntarily committed also can be submitted to the database.
The database does not include private mental health records, such as diagnoses from hospitals or information from insurers. DOJ officials said that the records that states submit to the database do not identify the type of mental illness a person has (iHealthBeat, 11/30/07).
Details of DOJ's Recommendations
In the recommendations proposed last year, DOJ suggested that the Social Security Agency and other benefits distributors update the FBI database when:
- Federal workers or job applicants fail a drug test; and
- They arrange to send a check to a trustee for a person deemed mentally incompetent to manage their own finances.
DOJ also recommended that Congress:
- Increase grants to states that voluntarily submit their own law enforcement information to the database, with grants totaling $100 million annually -- up from about $11 million this year;
- Enact a law that would expand the list of transactions subject to background checks, which currently are required only for purchases from licensed firearm dealers; and
- Increase criminal penalties for people acting as "straw" buyers for others who would be blocked by a background check from purchasing firearms.
According to the Times. It is unclear whether strengthening the FBI database would have prevented the school shooting in Connecticut (New York Times, 12/15).