Thursday, March 18, 2004

Critics: Mentally ill shouldn't have gun

Ohio blasted as lax in updating don't-sell-to list

By Jordan Gentile
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Wednesday's arrest in the highway-shooting case has given fresh ammunition to gun-control advocates who say Ohio does a lousy job of keeping mentally ill people from buying guns.

Licensed gun sellers nationwide are required to make instant background checks through an FBI database to identify potentially dangerous buyers.

When a judge has ruled a person mentally ill, he or she cannot be sold firearms. But those background checks don't have much effect in Ohio because the state hasn't updated the federal database with the names of people deemed mentally ill by judges.

"There are big holes in the system," said Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. "We're really living under a false security."

Calls for Ohio to share court records naming the mentally ill have become louder since the recent break in the Columbus case.

Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas. McCoy's mother, Ardith, has said her son suffers from schizophrenia. Franklin County court records indicate that McCoy has not been found mentally ill by a judge, and police would not comment on his mental health Wednesday.

Police also refused to say whether he purchased any guns from a licensed seller - the only circumstance in which background checks would occur.

Still, gun-control advocates are using news of McCoy's reported mental illness to put pressure on states that don't give the FBI information on the mentally ill.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, said Ohio is contributing to a national problem. "Any sensible person would say that these people should be disqualified from gun ownership," he said.

Wilcox said 17 states keep a list of people who a judge has deemed mentally ill or incompetent.

Wilcox said the attorney general is responsible for handing those names over to the FBI.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office is compiling a list of people judged by county courts to be mentally ill - a project that began in preparation for Ohio's concealed weapons law that goes into effect next month.

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