If you are involuntarily committed to a mental health institute in Georgia, your name will be added to a list of people who are not allowed to buy firearms. For five years.
Five years from when a record of your commitment has been added to the database, your information will be removed and you should have no problem clearing background checks needed to buy a gun anywhere in the United States.
This year, the state uploaded more than 2,000 new records of mentally ill Georgians to the database —people committed for inpatient treatment; found incompetent to handle their own affairs; or found guilty of a crime but mentally ill. But the state also took down almost 500 other records in 2015, making it possible for scores of mentally ill people to acquire guns legally anywhere in the country.
According to the AJC, Georgia law requires that the records of those who have been involuntarily committed be cleared from the National Instant Background Check System after five years.
Dr. Steven Hoge, who heads the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Psychiatry and the Law, told the AJC that he thinks the five-year limitation makes sense. He explained that treatment generally takes just a few weeks or months, and that "the public has massively overestimated the dangerousness of the mentally disordered."
Chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Renee Unterman, a Republican senator, agrees that it's more harmful for the individuals in question to be branded as mentally ill for life. "It’s a tenuous position for someone to have had a mental illness,” she said, adding, "your mental health when you’re 25 years old is different from when you’re 55 years old. Why should you carry the baggage and stigma of mental illness?"
AJC's report comes at the close of a year where Americans saw, by some estimates, hundreds of mass shootings. By now, we know that there will be two responses to these tragic events: Liberals will call for better gun control, and conservatives for better mental health services. The conflict in Georgia—between keeping guns away from people with a history of mental illness, and the dangerous implications of keeping records of those who've been involuntarily committed—illustrates how the second option is so complicated.
Strict gun laws, on the other hand, work.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.