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SEARCH Focus Group Report: How Mental Health Records Become Part of the NICS Index for Background Checks

By Becki Goggins
SEARCH conducted a survey of its Membership Group earlier this year to determine the challenges they face in including mental health records in the NIX Index. Thirty-five states responded. Download the survey results

The national system for conducting firearms background checks—the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS—is intended to keep firearms out of the hands of those who are prohibited from them by federal or state law.

There are 10 categories of prohibitors, including persons convicted of felonies, fugitives from justice, illegal aliens, and persons dishonorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces.

One of the databases checked in this system is the NICS Index, which contains data on individuals with a mental health history that prohibits them from receiving or possessing firearms.  Specifically, these are persons who have been adjudicated as not guilty by reason of insanity, determined to be incompetent to stand trial, involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or placed in legal guardianship status as an adult due to mental incapacitation.

In recent years, states have made unprecedented improvements in the way mental health information is made available for these background checks. Despite this, there is still an overall lack of understanding about how these records are contributed to the NICS Index, and which records are eligible.

Earlier this year, SEARCH formed the Mental Health Records in NICS Focus Group to examine this issue. The focus group has just released a white paper explaining how mental health records become a part of the NICS Index, common misconceptions about these records, and successes that states have had in making these records available to the NICS.

The focus group is comprised of state-level justice and mental health officials from 11 states, as well as SEARCH staff.  It is the focus groups’ intention that this white paper be a resource for Congress, policymakers, justice and behavioral health officials, the media, and the public.

BeckiGogginsAbout the Author

Ms. Becki Goggins is Director of Law and Policy at SEARCH. She oversees SEARCH’s consulting practice in the areas of criminal history records, development of laws and policies concerning the use of justice information and protection of privacy, implementation of evidence-based practices, and the use of technology to improve justice information sharing. Learn more about SEARCH’s work with noncriminal justice background checks and the NICS.

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