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Laurel White/MEDILL

The Illinois State Police submits mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Tens of thousands of Illinois records missing from reports to gun retailers

by Laurel White
Jan 29, 2013

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Mayors Against Illegal Guns reportIllinois Attorney General reportUnited States Government Accountability Office report

The path from Illinois to the national background check system

"The Illinois Department of Human Services maintains a database that the Illinois State Police use to crosscheck Illinois Firearms Owner Identification applicants and current card holders. IDHS also provides information about persons who are federally prohibited [from owning firearms] to the Illinois State Police for submission to NICS. Private facilities are mandated to report voluntary and involuntary admissions to IDHS on a weekly basis. We have recently made a number of improvements regarding the reporting of mental health prohibitors and continue to work closely with police, other human service organizations, hospitals and the courts for greater compliance and communication."
- Department of Human Services spokeswoman Januari Smith
In 14 months, Illinois has more than quadrupled mental health record submissions to the federal database used by gun retailers to do background checks, but estimates indicate that only 34 percent of the state’s records have been submitted.

As of today, 39,144 Illinoisans can’t buy a gun because they have suffered from mental illness, according to state officials..

That means that more than 30,000 additional mental health records have been submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System since Oct. 31, 2011. At that time, a Mayors Against Illegal Guns report ranked Illinois 21st in the country for submissions to the database that catalogs individuals ineligible for gun ownership.

“The increase in submissions is due to several issues,” said Sgt. Matthew Boerwinkle, Illinois State Police spokesman. “[The Department of Human Services] went back through their records dating back to 1968 and identified 18,000 records to be submitted. Also, a year ago, only three county clerks were directly reporting adjudicated mental defectives to ISP, today there are 22 counties reporting.”

That’s 22 out of the state’s 102 county clerks.

“We continue to work with the clerks to improve these numbers,” Boerwinkle said.

Despite improvement, Illinois still has a long way to go.

According to a report issued by the United States Government Accountability Office in July 2012, there were approximately 114,000 mental health records being kept in Illinois nursing homes, private hospitals, state mental health facilities and circuit courts in 2010.

Even if no additional records had been produced in the past two years, Illinois would have only submitted 34 percent of the records that prevent mentally ill residents from purchasing a gun.

Illinois’ current 39,144 submissions equal 304 documents submitted for every 100,000 residents of the state -- the national average for record submission as of Oct. 31, 2011, was 379 records per 100,000 residents, according to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns report.

As of November 2011, California had submitted nearly 280,000 records; Michigan had submitted 99,268.

In pursuit of these states’ higher submission rates, Illinois sought federal grant money and received $1.2 million in 2010. Prior to 2010 the state had submitted zero mental health records, due to lack of funds and personnel.

The grant money went toward amping up the technical capabilities of the Illinois Department of Human Services, which maintains the state’s database of mental health records and transfers relevant records to the state police for submission to the national database.

Illinois was one of eight states to receive such a grant in 2010 – and the only one of those eight to not receive a grant in 2011.

Technically, the state received a 2011 grant, but couldn’t spend it due to administrative delays, according to Cristin Evans, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority spokeswoman. The authority applied for and tracks the grants.

“There were new regulations we weren’t anticipating,” she said, citing new state laws that complicated disbursal of the funds.

She noted that the federal government understood the state’s complications and simply delayed the award.

According to Boerwinkle, the Illinois State Police has since received the $1.65 million.