State seeks to boost gun background check system reporting

State seeks to boost gun background check system reporting

Provision’s purpose is to prevent future violence, suicides

Under a proposed rewrite of state crime laws, Alaska legislators would require the courts to review for a federal database system records dating to 1981 for individuals who have been involuntarily committed and would be restricted from owning firearms.

While debates over guns elicit fears of erosions of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, this provision has generated few waves. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration is pushing it as a way to prevent future violence or suicides. National Rifle Association spokesman Lars Dalseide by email said that group “has always called for the submission of all relevant records” to the system “and that position hasn’t changed.”

Some Republicans in the state Legislature have expressed support. Rep. Chuck Kopp, a former police officer, said he supports Second Amendment rights but said there’s a balance in wanting to ensure the database has that information to improve the safety of the general public.

The state in 2014 began requiring the courts to provide to the Department of Public Safety information on involuntary commitments. It also set out a process by which affected individuals could seek to have their gun rights restored. The law’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt, at the time noted Alaska’s “steadfast tradition of the right to responsible firearm ownership,” and he saw providing relevant information to the database as a key part of that responsibility.

“There are some people who might find themselves surprised by it, and that part is my concern,” he said Thursday. But the benefits “probably outweigh those other concerns. But I don’t say that without recognizing that there could be some people who were affected.”

That law was part of a national trend to bolster information provided to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used by licensed gun sellers to determine if prospective buyers are eligible to purchase firearms. The system relies on available criminal history and mental health records.

“The databases are only as good as the information that’s in them,” said Kelly Howell, special assistant to Alaska’s public safety commissioner, adding later: “I just really feel strongly that this is something the state can do to help prohibit and prevent some violence and some sad incidents in people’s lives.”

The administration proposes going back to 1981 because it says that’s when the state’s civil commitment laws were passed. Alaska also has high rates of suicide.

From October 2014 through the end of last December, Alaska listed 432 individuals as prohibited from possessing a gun because of involuntary commitments or court orders of mental illness or incompetence, according to FBI data. By comparison, the state reported 4,458 individuals as barred from having guns because of felony or certain serious misdemeanor convictions during the same time period.

Some states, like Montana and Wyoming, show small numbers of people in all categories who would be prohibited from having a gun. Nationally, FBI data shows about 5.7 million active records related to the mental health category, as of the end of 2018

It’s unclear how many people would be barred from buying guns if the provision passes in Alaska. The court system estimates it would need to research 21,637 cases filed before it switched to electronic record-keeping — including files stored on microfilm — to provide to the Department of Public Safety court orders related to involuntary commitments and any subsequent judicial orders finding a person is unlikely to be a danger to themselves or others and able to possess a firearm.

Mark Regan, legal director of the Disability Law Center of Alaska, cited concern with reaching so far back.

“What you’re looking at are people not knowing that there would be these consequences who’ve been in the civil commitment process at times beginning in 1981,” he said. “It might well be that there would be people who would have contested the civil commitment more vigorously if they had known that 20 years later or 30 years later they would be reported to the database.”

He acknowledged people could petition the courts but questioned how well known that process is.

Lindsay Nichols, federal policy director with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said other states have passed laws calling for prior-year commitments to be added to the database, such as Texas and Minnesota. According to the center, federal law does not require states to submit information to system, making participation voluntary.

Howell said the department would seek federal grant funding to help the courts if the expanded review is approved. The court estimates the cost at about $140,000.

“If someone is determined, there are other ways they can potentially obtain firearms. But this is one thing that we can and should do to ensure that those who shouldn’t have firearms are prohibited from purchasing and possessing them,” she said.


• This is an Associated Press report by Becky Bohrer.


More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of April 15

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

Rep. Sara Hannan (right) offers an overview of this year’s legislative session to date as Rep. Andi Story and Sen. Jesse Kiehl listen during a town hall by Juneau’s delegation on Thursday evening at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Multitude of education issues, budget, PFD among top areas of focus at legislative town hall

Juneau’s three Democratic lawmakers reassert support of more school funding, ensuring LGBTQ+ rights.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of the Inupiaq village of Nuiqsut, at the area where a road to the Willow project will be built in the North Slope of Alaska, March 23, 2023. The Interior Department said it will not permit construction of a 211-mile road through the park, which a mining company wanted for access to copper deposits. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
Biden shields millions of acres of Alaskan wilderness from drilling and mining

The Biden administration expanded federal protections across millions of acres of Alaskan… Continue reading

Allison Gornik plays the lead role of Alice during a rehearsal Saturday of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “Alice in Wonderland,” which will be staged at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé for three days starting Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
An ‘Alice in Wonderland’ that requires quick thinking on and off your feet

Ballet that Juneau Dance Theatre calls its most elaborate production ever opens Friday at JDHS.

Caribou cross through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in their 2012 spring migration. A 211-mile industrial road that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority wants to build would pass through Gates of the Arctic and other areas used by the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of the largest in North America. Supporters, including many Alaska political leaders, say the road would provide important economic benefits. Opponents say it would have unacceptable effects on the caribou. (Photo by Zak Richter/National Park Service)
Alaska’s U.S. senators say pending decisions on Ambler road and NPR-A are illegal

Expected decisions by Biden administration oppose mining road, support more North Slope protections.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 13. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska House members propose constitutional amendment to allow public money for private schools

After a court ruling that overturned a key part of Alaska’s education… Continue reading

Danielle Brubaker shops for homeschool materials at the IDEA Homeschool Curriculum Fair in Anchorage on Thursday. A court ruling struck down the part of Alaska law that allows correspondence school families to receive money for such purchases. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
Lawmakers to wait on Alaska Supreme Court as families reel in wake of correspondence ruling

Cash allotments are ‘make or break’ for some families, others plan to limit spending.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Newly elected tribal leaders are sworn in during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
New council leaders, citizen of year, emerging leader elected at 89th Tribal Assembly

Tlingit and Haida President Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson elected unopposed to sixth two-year term.

Most Read