Closing TX gun background check loophole gets bipartisan support

Closing TX gun background check loophole gets bipartisan support
Closing TX gun background check loophole gets bipartisan support

Texas lawmakers are working to close a loophole in a 2009 law that was intended to prevent people with a history of serious mental health problems from legally obtaining firearms.

Under current law, county and district officials across the state are required to send information about court-ordered mental health hospitalizations to the Department of Public Safety. The state’s top law enforcement agency is charged with forwarding those records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. Federally licensed dealers are required to check the system before selling a firearm to anyone.

Elliott Naishtat, a former state lawmaker from Austin who authored the 2009 law, told news organizations he intended it to apply to all Texans of all ages. But after the Uvalde school shooting in May 2022, the outlets discovered that local court clerks weren’t sharing this information for youth, either as a matter of policy or because they didn’t think they had to.

A bill by state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston-area Republican, passed unanimously out of committee last week with bipartisan support.

The legislation aligns Texas with new federal reporting requirements and is “intended to make background checks more thorough and thereby make our communities and schools safer,” Huffman said during the committee hearing.

Congress passed gun reform legislation in June that includes a requirement that federal investigators check state databases for juvenile mental health records. But such checks won’t reveal many court-ordered juvenile commitments in Texas because they currently go unreported.

It is impossible to say how many Texans with juvenile mental health records have been able to purchase firearms as adults. But the same month Congress passed the reforms, San Antonio police arrested a 19-year-old man who had been placed in mental health care twice when he was 16, his father told police. The man, who had recently purchased an AR-like rifle, considered the Uvalde gunman an “idol” and threatened to commit a mass shooting at an Amazon delivery station where he worked, according to an arrest affidavit.

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Since the news organizations’ investigation, the Texas Judicial Council, which oversees and recommends reforms to the state judiciary, has asked lawmakers to clarify reporting requirements for juveniles, concluding there was widespread confusion about them.

Naishtat also reached out to current lawmakers to request that they file legislation to clarify the requirements after learning of the gap from ProPublica and the Tribune.

“I just want to get this fixed,” Naishtat said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune on

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