Privacy Law Prevents Gun Background Checks

by on February 5th, 2004

Under the concealed-carry gun law signed by Gov. Taft, people who have been committed to mental-health facilities are to be denied permits. However, sheriff’s department investigators are only able to determine if a person has been committed to a facility when it was done in accordance with a court order. There is no way to determine the number or names of those committed by a family member or guardian due to the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As federal law, all hospitals, clinics and other health-care providers are prohibited by HIPAA from releasing patient medical records.

The number of people involved is not insignificant. About 200 people have been committed to state mental hospitals in Ohio without a court order. Private facilities house an additional 3,000 beds, but no patient information is shared so it’s unknown how many of those beds are even occupied. So, at any conceivable time, a few hundred, a thousand, or more Ohioans could be authorized to carry concealed weapons after having been committed to a mental institution.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office is reviewing the concealed-carry law and how HIPAA affects it. Of note is that neither of the adjacent states of Kentucky and Indiana have access to private patient records, but do deny permits to those ruled mentally ill by the courts.

The Ohio concealed-carry law goes into effect on April 8th, but applications for permits will probably not be accepted before June. In the interim, rules and procedures governing the permit process will be established.

Based upon empirical evidence, it’s not unusual to find that irrational killers have documented histories of mental problems. It seems imprudent, if not reckless, to prevent investigators from accessing these histories when reviewing for suitability to carry a concealed weapon.

Mike Pechar