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No complete background gun checks

Authorities say it is impossible to confirm if a permit applicant is mentally healthy.
Wednesday, October 8, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Friends and family might be the only thing standing between mentally incompetent Missourians and a gun-carrying permit.

While the background check for Missouri’s new conceal-and-carry law provides a look into the applicant’s criminal history, there are a few items that won’t be checked.

The concealed-guns legislation approved by the Missouri General Assembly last month is scheduled to take effect Saturday. A lawsuit to be filed today, however, seeks to block the law.

The application for a conceal-and-carry permit outlined in the law includes a list of affirmations to be signed — essentially a promise that the applicant is telling the truth. Applicants must affirm that they are residents of Missouri and U.S. citizens, and that they are older than 23.

They also must affirm several things they are not. They cannot have been dishonorably discharged from the military, and they cannot have been judged mentally incompetent or been committed to a mental health facility within the past five years.

But the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, which is charged with issuing permits, won’t check those assertions, said Sheriff Ted Boehm.

“The military is not impossible,” Boehm said, but “the mental-health check is impossible.”

The military-discharge and mental-health items appear on the application to buy a gun as well, Boehm said. His department, however, does not check the veracity of applicants’ claims.

“It’s a yes-or-no question on the permit to purchase,” Boehm said. “If a person answers no, we do not pursue that.”

Although military records could be checked, Boehm said “it would take forever.” Mental-health records are a different story.

“Those records are not open to us,” he said. “They never have been, and I don’t look for them to be.”

The background check for conceal-and-carry applicants is stricter than that for gun buyers, as it includes fingerprinting. Fingerprints of conceal-and-carry applicants will be run through state and federal public safety databases.

Rep. Larry Crawford, R-California, who sponsored the conceal-and-carry legislation, said it’s of great importance to screen who’s getting firearms in the first place — yet gun buyers aren’t fingerprinted.

“I think this law provides more safeguards,” Crawford said of the conceal-and-carry law.

In addition to the criminal background check, the sheriff’s department will require documentation from applicants. The sheriff’s office will want to see a Missouri driver’s license or state identification card, Boehm said.

“We assume that if they can get a Missouri driver’s license, then they are a U.S. citizen,” Boehm said, adding that the license would also serve as proof of age.

Applicants also must produce a photocopy of their firearms-training certification. But on their military and mental histories, the department won’t require documentation.

Boehm said in the past the department has relied on people who know gun-purchase applicants to step forward and voice concerns about applicants’ mental health. If he finds out later that someone falsified an application, Boehm said, he can revoke the permit.

Missouri officials would be unable to check every individual who was carrying in the state anyway, Crawford said, noting that state law already allowed people to drive through the state with guns in their cars.

“I happen to know there are scores of people who have been carrying illegally besides criminals,” Crawford said, “because they felt the need to protect themselves.”


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