Report: Shoddy record keeping shoots holes in Florida’s mental health gun registry

Thinkstock-gun-300x200TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s against federal and state law for individuals who’ve been legally deemed mentally incompetent to purchase firearms from licensed gun dealers.

But in Florida, it can still happen.

Floridians adjudicated with the harsh label of being “mentally defective,” and those that have been court-committed to mental health institutions, must have their identifying information recorded in a state gun registry, known as the Mentally Defective Database, or MECOM.

If they try to buy a gun, their ID should show up during a routine background check and the sale denied.

It’s a safety measure that can potentially cast too wide a net, though many gun control advocates and Second Amendment enthusiasts, including the National Rifle Association, support such efforts.

But a recent state auditor general’s report found Florida’s MECOM system suffers from shoddy recording keeping.

“Our audit tests disclosed that the data was often not timely recorded and, in some instances, may not have been accurately and completely recorded,” the report states.

The report also said that some records “may not yet have been recorded,” and the findings show “an increased risk” that those legally declared mentally unfit to purchase a weapon can slip through the cracks.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is responsible for compiling and maintaining MECOM. The department is supposed to receive legal records from the State Clerks of Court, one for each of Florida’s 67 counties, and enter the information within 30 days of a court ruling.

mecom-table-300x171Of the 26,455 legal determinations of mental incompetency made since 2007, 11,307 were added late. Of those, 3,711 records were three years or more late.

Florida Watchdog contacted the FDLE for comment and was told this in an email:

“As the repository of the information, FDLE has assisted the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers by making changes and enhancements to processes and systems and will continue to work with them to ensure records entered into the MECOM Database are timely, accurate and complete.”

“We have no knowledge of ineligible individuals being approved to purchase a firearm as a result of inaccurate information in the MECOM Database.”

FDLE received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Justice this year to, among other things, improve MECOM record keeping. Since 2009, FDLE has landed $8,634,134 in federal grants aimed at background check record improvements.

Still, the auditor’s report states that during a data entry period beginning July 2011 and ending April 2013, no records had been created for 10 Florida counties dating back to 2007.

Additionally, 194 individuals’ records showed their birth dates matching their court order dates, wrongly making 40 of those individuals less than 8-years-old. For 17,203 individuals, their gender was listed as unknown.

MECOM is part of Florida’s Firearm Purchase Program, which requires the FDLE to conduct criminal and mental health background checks in conjunction with the federal Brady Act of 1993.

In the nearly three-year period roughly overlapping the active record keeping considered in the report, FDLE charged gun buyers more than $9.8 million in criminal background check fees.

The state auditor’s final recommendation was for FDLE to continue improving MECOM, even as it found “the Department had not yet established procedures to ensure timeliness, accuracy and completeness.”

In response, department management said it has already submitted an application for more federal funding.

Published with permission from Watchdog.org.

Contact William Patrick at [email protected] or follow Florida Watchdog on Twitter at @watchdogfla.

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