Audit reveals flaws in how courts handle mental health, guns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A performance audit has found that the Tennessee court system didn’t fully comply with a 2013 state law designed to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals with mental health issues.

The audit, which was conducted by Comptroller Justin Wilson’s Division of State Audit, was released Wednesday, multiple media outlets reported. The purpose was to see whether processes required by the new law were being followed.

The law requires court clerks to submit reports on people committed to a mental institution or adjudicated as “mental defective” within three business days to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used by gun dealers.

The comptroller’s report shows that instead, some clerks were forwarding information to the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts to file for them.

The report does not definitely say that individuals with mental illness have obtained guns nor carry permits but did reveal flaws in the system, including finding that the AOC had not adequately tracked mental health reports submitted to them from court clerks.

“The bottom line with this is that when there are weaknesses here in this system, people who are supposed to be on this database may not be when they go in to buy a gun or to get a carry permit with the Department of Safety,” said John Dunn, a spokesman for Wilson.

Auditors said they found that some courts had failed to submit reports within the required three-business-day period.

“To learn that an audit revealed that Tennessee Court System management had not fully complied with state laws regarding mental health and firearms reporting is inexcusable — and terrifying,” Beth Joslin Roth with the Safe Tennessee Project, which advocates for stronger gun laws, said.

The AOC concurred with the findings, saying the problem is “partly due to a funding issue” and that it will devote the resources necessary to more accurately track mental health reports that are submitted.

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