The Limits of Gun Background Checks

The Limits of Gun Background Checks

BALTIMORE (WBFF) - Cracks in the background check system that screens gun-buyers may allow people struggling with mental illness to buy guns, and commit violence with them.

Behind a Baltimore County shopping center, Dorothy Paugh walks down a steep hill to a stream filled with autumn leaves.

"These woods are the last place where my son stood,” Dorothy said. “It was a Friday the 13th, so I don’t like them anymore.”

Six years ago, Dorothy’s son, Peter, killed himself in these woods.

“He never said anything or sought any treatment,” Dorothy said.

While Dorothy believes Peter may have suffered from depression, he never got an official diagnosis or showed a history of violence. He was able to legally buy a gun.

Operation: Crime and Justice first began looking into the background check system for guns after David Katz shot and killed multiple people in Jacksonville, FL in August. He was from Baltimore and legally bought two guns in Maryland.

Katz was sent to mental health facilities as a teen. Court documents show he went to two facilities in Maryland and one in Utah.

Maryland’s gun application asks if a potential buyer has been sent to a mental health facility for more than 30 days. If an applicant answers yes to that question, he is disqualified from buying a gun. Despite Katz staying in the Utah facility for 97 days, he was legally allowed to buy a gun.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is overseen by the FBI. The system can notify other states of someone’s mental health background. State police say nothing showed up in Katz’s background that blocked him from buying a gun. But one of the 13 states that don’t require mental health information be shared with other states, is Utah.

Mark Pennak is the President of Maryland Shall Issue. He admits, the system is not perfect.

“Are you going to screen everybody with mental illness out? No, of course not,” Pennak said.

For Dorothy, she’s hoping new gun laws, like Maryland’s Red Flag Law, will make it easier to alert authorities to people suffering from a mental health crisis.

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