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Opening Arguments

Check and mate

The problem with gun-purc hase background checks few seem willing to talk about:

WASHINGTON — About 4,000 Hoosiers could not pass a federal background check to buy a gun because of mental illness.

In Delaware, a state about one-seventh the size of Indiana, a background check would block nearly 19,000 people with mental illness records from getting a gun.

In Massachusetts, a state similar in size to Indiana, only one person would be stopped.

Even as the Senate prepares to take up legislation next month to include private sales among the types of gun purchases that require a background check, there remains a great variation among states on the submission of mental health records to the federal background database.

Indiana’s numbers are low because — unlike states such as Texas — the 2009 Indiana law mandating the state report people found to be mentally ill to a national database didn’t require court officials to search past records.

Even the National Rifle Association — which opposes expanding background checks — says there are too many holes in thesystem.

Background checks are very good at detecting criminal records, horrible at weeding out those who are dangerously mental ill. Most mass killings are committed by the deranged, not bank robbers, so how much safer will universal background checks make us? And because of health privacy laws, it's almost impossible to get someone dangerous committed these days or even get anybody official to pay attention. Jared Loughner was so scary that his parents took a gun away from him, and numerous people at the college he attended said he should never have a weapon. Lots of warning signs there but nothing done.