Firearms and the mentally ill: How one state’s alert system helps cops stay safe

As the investigation continues from last week’s tragedy at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, officials have indicated that the suspect was suffering from mental illness. Several reports and stories have surfaced about the gaps in the justice system, with one question being how an individual with a mental illness purchases a firearm from a federal firearm licensee.

In order for an FFL to know that the individual has a mental health court order or is a prohibited possessor, that information must be available somewhere for them to query, which brings us to the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The FBI NICS was developed as a result of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act. The FBI implemented this national program in 1998 and continues to expand its capabilities to keep officers and communities safe by stopping prohibited possessors from acquiring firearms from FFLs.  

Currently, there are gaps in the justice system, because in order for FFLs to know that individuals who suffer from mental illness should be prohibited possessors, that data needs to be in NICS. Additionally, how will law enforcement officers know if the subject they just stopped has a mental health court order and that he or she should be prohibited from having a firearm? 

Recently, Arizona developed and implemented a new message to address the latter issue. The message alerts law enforcement officers if the subject they’re approaching has a mental health court order that makes him or her a prohibited possessor. The alert appears as a response when an officer is running a warrants query that touches the Arizona Crime Information Center. This state-wide, multi-year initiative was federally funded by multiple grants from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Assistance…

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