SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's effort to provide mental-health records for a federal database used in background checks for gun buyers had been lacking until about 18 months ago.
New Mexico is one of three dozen states that rely on the FBI to conduct background checks to help keep firearms out of potentially dangerous hands. The background check system created decades ago relies on data compiled with spotty help from states.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports (http://bit.ly/110TP0Y) that the Government Accountability Office last summer evaluated whether records were being provided as part of a 2007 push to increase states' participation in the database.
The federal office won't give details about the records New Mexico provided between 2004 and 2011, but noted that the state's reporting procedures left a gap.
Carol Cha, acting director for homeland security and justice issues at the GAO, said it's easier for states to transmit criminal history records that are kept in law enforcement computers to the federal database, but that mental health records are kept outside of law enforcement agencies at private hospitals and state departments of mental health.
Cha said New Mexico's problem was that it hadn't tasked a state agency with identifying where relevant mental-health records were kept and coordinating a plan to get the records into the database. New Mexico officials had been discussing the issue for about four years, but no solution had emerged at the time of the GAO's report in July 2012, Cha said.
Arthur Pepin, director of the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, said the report doesn't give the state credit for a significant increase in reporting that began in June 2011.
Since that date, Pepin said his office has made regular monthly "data extracts" for the FBI on felony convictions, domestic-violence convictions and court orders of commitment to mental institutions. The judiciary also provided district court and magistrate court records dating back to 1997 and even further back when the records were available.
In the last year and a half, his office has sent more than 234,000 records to the FBI database. An average of 1,030 new records from New Mexico is delivered electronically each month.
Background checks for gun sales performed since the summer of 2011 would have turned up relevant records from New Mexico, but before then, "we were a black hole as far as reporting was going," said Steve Prisoc, chief information officer for the New Mexico Judiciary.
Regina Chacon, chief of the state Department of Public Safety's Law Enforcement Records Bureau, acknowledged that New Mexico has been contributing to the federal background check system only in recent years, but she said the state has provided regular criminal history reports to the FBI since the 1950s.
"These checks were done prior to 2011," Chacon said. "They were just done in a different way."
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com