Privacy versus full disclosure


From: David J. Knight,
lieutenant, retired
Winona Police Department

In the midst of all the controversy over guns and gun violence following the Parkland School shooting in Florida, one issue that seems to rise to the surface in discussion, whether Democrat or Republican, is the issue of improving background checks. NCIC (National Crime Information Center) provides a free service that allows licensed firearms dealers to make a simple telephone call to determine “eligibility for ownership” of a potential gun purchasing customer. This requirement came about as the result of the Brady Act of 1993 and implemented by the FBI in 1998.

The Gun Control Act (GCA), codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), makes it unlawful for certain categories of persons to ship, transport, receive, or possess firearms or ammunition, to include any person:

• convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;

• who is a fugitive from justice;

• who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act, codified at 21 U.S.C. § 802);

• who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution;

• who is an illegal alien;

• who has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;

• who has renounced his or her United States citizenship;

• who is subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner; or

• who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

My concern is that current privacy laws in many, if not most states, restrict the release of mental health treatment or commitment, medical, chemical dependency treatment, public health or social services information and certain types of law enforcement information (calls for service with no arrest or conviction data) to such national data bases or to local law enforcement officials.

Our society’s desire for protection of personal privacy data has resulted in information that may prevent a person’s ability to purchase a firearm, being collected and maintained in organizational or other governmental data bases that are not available to law enforcement to aid in the determination of appropriate firearm ownership.

A suggestion for strengthening background checks would include the following:

1. Mandate 5-10 day waiting periods for purchase as exist in a few of states already;

2. Enact enabling legislation to allow for the release of any information from any source that would support the denial of purchase of a firearm to certain persons;

3. This release would only be upon the request to purchase a firearm and would be available ONLY to local law enforcement officials in the jurisdiction in which the firearm request is being made;

4. A local law enforcement review would be in addition to the already required NCIC background check;

5. Local law enforcement would be responsible to release any information obtained from such checks that could be deemed to be a threat to national security to the appropriate State or Federal agency;

6. Information would be added to the existing application to purchase a firearm, that would provide for a “waiver of privacy” by the applicant.

This may seem like “big brother” over regulation to some; however, it does not even broach the subject of additional “control” over firearms or impinge the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. It would simply require a person who intends to buy a firearm to forfeit their “right to privacy” in lieu of “full disclosure.” It would also allow local law enforcement officials to broaden the scope of a background check for the purpose of purchasing a firearm.


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