9 Investigates guns and mental health

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Since July 2011, more than 43,000 Florida residents have lost their right to purchase a firearm.

Florida, like many states, prohibits any person who has been declared mentally incompetent from purchasing a firearm, but now an internal audit of the system show errors in the data and delays in processing.
 

Under state law, it is the County Clerk of Courts' responsibility to notify the Florida Department of Law Enforcement within 30 days once a person has been adjudicated mentally incompetent. 
 
FDLE takes the information from the clerks and submits it to the FBI, which maintains the national database.  It is the FBI database that FDLE then checks anytime a person calls in to verify a firearm purchase. 
 
Once a person has been adjudicated mentally incompetent, his or her right to purchase a firearm is revoked until that person petitions the court to have his or her rights restored.

 “It is a time-sensitive issue,” said Tim Giesecke, the director of the database for FDLE.  “Any error rate in this realm is really unacceptable.”
 
According to the audit, 194 records had birth dates that incorrectly matched court dates.  The audit also found that some clerk’s offices were failing to meet the 30-day reporting deadline. 
 
From February 2007 to April 2013 half of the records turned in missed the 30-day deadline, with 4,371 records taking more than a year to process.
 
“Any errors are unacceptable, especially when it comes to purchasing firearms,” said Giesecke.
 
Keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental issues is such a concern for the state that last year, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1355, which further regulates whether a person can purchase firearm after a voluntary commitment to a mental hospital. 
 
The legislation came with the blessing of the National Rifle Association, which testified before the state on the issue.
 
“The NRA believes that anyone adjudicated as mentally incompetent or deemed to be a danger to others or to themselves should not have access to firearms,” said NRA representative Jacqueline Isaacs in a statement to Eyewitness News.
 
FDLE said it has already started working with the Florida Association of County Clerks to correct the problems and fix the data and ensure that all adjudications are reported within the 30-day period.
 
Despite the changes made by FDLE and the Florida Clerks, neither agency can accurately say if a person with mental illness may have slipped through the cracks. 
 
Florida does not have a firearm registry, and all calls verifying a purchase are erased by FDLE within 48 hours after the call is made. 
 
The state, at present time, has no mechanism in place to remove a gun from a person who purchased the weapon before his or her adjudication was filed with FDLE.