Seattle - Attorney General Rob McKenna joined King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg, David Weston from the DSHS Mental Health Division and Chief Vicky
Stormo from the University of Washington’s police department in releasing a report outlining necessary improvements to restrict access to firearms by persons with mental health commitments.
“Recent tragedies have focused national attention on federal and state laws that restrict firearms purchases by persons with histories of serious mental health issues,” Attorney General McKenna stated. “During April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, the assailant was able to purchase firearms because a previous court order requiring him to receive outpatient mental health treatment had not been entered in either state or federal databases.
“In September I joined other state attorneys general in releasing a comprehensive report identifying recommendations for changes in laws and education policies to give students better protection from violence in their schools and on college campuses,” McKenna continued. “We have done a lot of good work. However, there is still much to do to keep the firearms out of those that may pose a danger to themselves or others.
Under Washington law, certain mental health evaluations, commitments and court programs do not result in firearm prohibition. Washington law places no firearm restrictions on adults or minors who have been detained for 72-hour evaluations or who have been subject to 14-day involuntary commitment orders.
“Consistent with federal law, Washington’s firearm statute should be amended to prohibit individuals who have been involuntarily committed for 14 days from possessing a firearm,” McKenna said. “My office will continue to work with other state agencies to pursue the measures necessary to improve .”
The 33-page report was produced by a workgroup McKenna convened in May 2007. The workgroup was tasked with performing a comprehensive survey of relevant state and federal laws and regulations focusing on mental health and gun possession.
The report found Washington well ahead of many states when it comes to reporting to , the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, but it also found areas for improvement.
“Washington is a leader among the states that participate in NICS,” McKenna said. “Washington began working with federal authorities in 2003 and made an initial submission of 47,000 names into the database. Washington is one of only four states that consistently submit records to NICS."
To build upon Washington’s strengths, McKenna announced several recommendations, both administrative and legislative, including:
• the need to develop one standardized Notice of Ineligibility to Possess Firearms form to be used for all mental health cases;
• increased access for law enforcement to records of civil commitment and other disqualifying mental health interventions; and
• the need for the courts and the Department of Licensing (DOL) to work together to verify the completeness of the DOL Firearms Database.
“Law enforcement needs better access to mental health records,” McKenna said. “Officers on the street have no immediate access to records that provide information about whether a person is restricted from possessing a firearm due to mental health prohibitions, despite the fact that the legislature has granted law enforcement authority to access such information.”
In addition, McKenna recommended that Washington’s firearm statute should be amended to close the gap on the 14-day involuntarily commitment. This would align Washington law with federal law.
Media Contact: J. Ryan Shannon, Media Relations Manager, (360) 753-2727
Audio of selected portions of the program:
Opening Remarks by Attorney General Rob McKenna
Perspective from King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg
Perspective from David Weston, DSHS Mental Health Division
Perspective from Chief Vicky Stormo, University of Washington Police Department