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Dealers, doctors discuss mental health and gun checks

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New Orleans, La. - There's a question all prospective gun buyers must answer before they can purchase a weapon from a dealer: Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective or been committed to a mental institution?

People are required to answer truthfully, but there's nothing in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, that actually warns local gun dealers when their prospective customers have lied.  Governor Bobby Jindal and the superintendent of Louisiana State Police want to change that.

"Virginia did it in direct response to the over-30 people that were killed at Virginia Tech University, so you had very large numbers there," says Colonel Mike Edmonson with State Police. "We haven't had those instances in Louisiana.  We don't want to have to deal with those instances in Louisiana."

The governor wants legislation that would allow the state to report a person's eligibility to buy a gun based on their mental health history.

Right now, Louisiana State Law prohibits reporting eligibility based on mental health to the NICS database, but 17 other states including New York and Texas require it.

Gun shop owner John Gauthier supports the governor's proposal.

"I don't think there's any gun dealer that would say that's not a good idea," he says. "None of us want someone who's considered violent by a mental health professional, to themselves or another, to have a firearm.  But I do feel that it has to have some precautions."

Gauthier thinks there needs to be strict criteria determining a person's eligibility.  Jindal's plan says that determination will be made by a court.

The criteria will include whether or not a person is considered dangerous, or if that person spent time in a mental institution.

Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, who founded the local organization Doctors Against Gun Violence, says the governor's proposal doesn't correct the whole problem.

"How can we prevent gun violence is by providing mental health," he says. "So what I would have loved to hear more than anything is we're going to support the mental health institutions in the city, we're going to build more mental health access clinics, we're going to provide good schooling for our children and we're going to tighten the restrictions on guns and access to guns."

Lawmakers will consider the legislation when they convene in April.

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