A Note to AGS Visitors


Americans for Gun Safety (AGS) and the AGS Foundation (AGSF) have been folded into Third Way, an organization founded and operated by the former AGS and AGSF management team.

For Third Way’s latest gun safety policy and message guidance, please visit our gun issues page. There you can also find reports produced by AGS in a special sub-category.

For current gun safety data and other information, we recommend the American Hunters and Shooters Association, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Press inquiries:
Matt Bennett, Vice President for Public Affairs
202.775.3768 x212

Press Release


Most Mental Health Records That Would Disqualify Gun Buyers Not in Background Check System, Third Way Report Finds

System Records Still Far from Complete, Allowing Criminals and Other Illegal Buyers to Get Guns

Washington, DC: More than nine out of ten mental health records that would disqualify someone from purchasing a gun are not in the nation’s background check database, finds a report released today by Third Way. The report also finds that 3,215 criminals in 2005 obtained a firearm simply because missing records meant the background check could not be completed within the allotted three-business day timetable, as required by federal law.

Entitled Missing Records: Holes in Background Check System Allow Illegal Buyers to Get Guns, the report is being released in the wake of the most lethal gun crime in American history – one with direct relevance to the troubles with the background check system, known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Seung-Hui Cho, who suffered from mental health problems and should have been barred from buying guns, was able to pass a background check because his data was missing from the system. He purchased two firearms that he used to kill 32 people and wound 29 others at Virginia Tech University.

In this report, Third Way updates a 2002 report by Americans for Gun Safety, which was run by the founders of Third Way. Five years later, Third Way concludes the background check system “is better and more accurate” but still “deeply flawed,” particularly in certain areas like mental health disqualifications.

Third Way Vice President Jim Kessler, author of both reports, said: “Dangerous holes in the system remain because states have not adequately completed the important tasks of collecting and automating all of the records necessary to disqualifying illegal gun buyers from passing a check to obtain a firearm.”

The number of disqualifying mental health records in the national database has increased from about 90,000 in 2002 to 234,628 today. While that looks like real improvement, there are at minimum 2.6 million such records that should be in the database. That means that 91% of those adjudicated mentally ill or involuntarily committed cannot be stopped by a gun buyer background check. Also, 40% of those mental health records are supplied by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, not individual states.

The percentages of felon records provided by states automatically to the NICS are listed state-by-state on pages five and six of the report. The report also categorizes states by how many are providing disqualifying mental health care records to the NICS as follows:

Few or No Records: AL, AZ, AR, FL, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MS, MO, MT, NV, NH, NM, NC, ND, OH, RI, SC, DS, TN, TX, VT, WV, WY

Some Records: HI, IL, IA, NY, OK

Many Records: AL, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, MA, MI, MN, NE, NJ, OR, PA, UT, VA, WA, WI

In the years since the first report, erstwhile adversaries in the gun debate have teamed up to introduce legislation to provide more money to states to improve their records and to deny some money from states that failed to do so. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Larry Craig (R-ID) and Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and John Dingell (D-MI) are attempting to revive that effort in this Congress.

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Contact: Matt Bennett (202) 775-3768 x212

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