BECKLEY - The Connecticut School Shooting and other recent mass shootings have sparked a national debate about guns and mental illness.
Some say gun background checks should be more stringent and others say existing gun laws just need to be more enforced.
Manager Mark Dempsey of Flat Top Arms in Beckley explained that licensed gun dealers are required by federal law to use background checks for people purchasing a firearm.
"It's important to try to keep the guns out of the hands of the criminals or people who have some bad intentions towards somebody else," said Dempsey.
People fill out a background check form at the store and then the dealers call the National Instant Check System (NICS) to determine if the person is approved to buy a gun. However, Dempsey said most criminals go through a loophole in the system to get firearms. "They buy them off the streets or through private sales, which at this time are not required by law to do the background checks."
When purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer, one of the questions on the form asks if the person has ever been deemed mentally unstable. But if the person lies, the seller's hands are tied. "The applicant has to answer that, and hopefully they're doing it honestly, but unless their records are registered with the federal National Instant Check System, we have no way of knowing," said Dempsey.
With privacy laws stemming from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) physicians are not required to send information about any mental behavior to federal authorities.
Kaleb Snyder of Nice Guns Tactical in Princeton said certain mental illnesses should be included on background checks so dealers can avoid putting guns into the wrong hands. "I want [NICS] to be able to say, 'They have a severe mental illness. They've been deemed unfit to own a weapon per some medical doctor,'" said Snyder. "Then I'd have to tell the person, 'I'm sorry, I can't sell you this. You've been denied.'"
Dempsey believes folks who harm others should not have guns, but he said including mental illnesses on background checks would require several legislative changes. "Are they gonna go ahead and change the privacy laws? Because HIPAA says its privacy," he said. "So are they gonna change one law to enact another law?"