The Garden State is handing over the names of thousands of current and former New Jerseyites who’ve been involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities to the FBI’s criminal database, know as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Moving forward, the names of these individuals will be flagged in a background check conducted by a gun shop owner or dealer, thus preventing them from purchasing a firearm.
New Jersey court officials said that they began forwarding digital records to the FBI earlier this year and that they expect to complete the program by the end of May.
The Civil Commitment Automated Tracking system has turned over identities of 280,000 people subject to involuntary civil commitment dating to 1975 in 16 of the state’s 21 counties. The five remaining counties — Atlantic, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth and Bergen — likely will be added by the end of May.
Officials of the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts say they expect the total number of people whose names have been sent to the FBI will reach about 420,000.
The effort to collect the names and digitally enter them into a computer database has been underway since 2010, funded as part of $2.7 million federal grant program.
As noted above, only those who were adjudicated ‘mentally defective,’ i.e. individuals that a judge has found to be a threat to themselves or others are added to the system. People who voluntarily seek treatment or those who are self-committed to a mental institution are omitted from the data collection.
New Jersey appellate judge Glenn A. Grant, who also serves as acting director of the New Jersey court system, spoke to the efficacy of the program.
“The program has already demonstrated its usefulness in promoting public safety,” Grant told Philly.com. “More than 85 gun purchases were denied based on the records the court provided to the New Jersey State Police for referral to the federal registry.”
Though, it’s not clear if those individuals were prosecuted for trying to purchase a firearm or if they went on to obtain firearms through illegal channels.
In theory, many gun owners support NICS. No one wants felons, career criminals or the mentally ill to have access to firearms. However, in practice, NICS has been known to be an inconvenience at times, a thorn in the side of law-abiding gun owners.
That is to say, the notion that NICS is an ‘instant’ process for gun purchasers often proves to be an exaggeration of reality. On several occasions throughout the year, NICS has actually crashed due to a high volume of background check requests.
Last year, on Black Friday, obviously one of the biggest shopping days of the year, FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer Jr., released a statement saying, “The NICS has experienced intermittent outages today due to high call volumes.”
Unfortunately, for many gun dealers — in areas that were affected by the outages — that meant no sales could be made during those downed periods, which equates to a loss in profit. And for many prospective gun buyers, that meant certain presents would not be purchased in time for Christmas (for more on this click here).
Whether it’s due to an inadequate staff, an incompetent staff, poor use of resources and technology, incomplete information (there are about 14 states that do not participate in NICS and instead run their own state-run databases), etc. NICS is a flawed system that desperately needs to be streamlined and improved, especially considering that more states are inclined to start turning over records amidst calls for tougher gun laws and expanded background checks in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.