After years of not reporting Utah's mentally ill to a federal database meant to keep guns out of the hands of those with a history of psychiatric problems, the state this week fed more than 10,000 records to the clearinghouse.
Utah had kept its own list "for Utah eyes only" to screen individuals wishing to purchase guns, but there was nothing to prevent a Utah resident with a history of mental illness from buying a firearm in another state.
The list of prohibited buyers includes those who have been adjudicated guilty but mentally ill or not guilty due to insanity part of a criminal trial or civilly committed.
The failure of Utah and nearly two dozen other states to share data on mentally ill residents through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) had been flagged as a major gap by critics that warned that the patchwork of reporting hampered background checks and has allowed people with serious mental illness to purchase guns.
Most notably, Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, two years after a judge ruled he was mentally ill.
Until this week, Utah would only submit a name to the federal database if a person on the state's list of those prohibited from owning a gun due to mental illness tried to purchase a weapon in the state and failed the background check.
According to the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Utah had submitted 109 records as of October 2011.
Utah's move to share that information signals a significant policy shift, but there will likely be efforts in the upcoming legislative session to ensure the data is useful and to provide a pathway for people to have their names removed from the federal database.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) transmitted Utah's list of 10,247 names to the NICS database. But 3,845 of those were rejected, the vast majority because they were missing a numeric identifier either a birth date or a Social Security number, said Lance Tyler, Brady Section supervisor for BCI.
Going forward, at the end of each night names will be transmitted from the court system to BCI and on to the FBI database.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said he plans to sponsor legislation requiring the courts to gather birth date and Social Security numbers for those adjudicated as mentally ill, so the records can be added to the federal database.
The senator also wants to pass legislation that would allow people who may have been deemed mentally ill, but have gone through treatment, to petition to have their ability to buy a firearm restored.
"There is currently no way for a Utahn to get their name off the list, and I'm not OK with that," Thatcher said.
A bill has been drafted with input from the courts and advocates for the mentally ill that Thatcher said would meet the federal requirements and allow a resident to get his or her name off the list.
The process would require a clean bill of health from a psychiatrist and notification of the local county attorney, who would have an opportunity to review the case and oppose the request, if there was a reason the individual should not purchase a gun.