Alabama law helps keep guns away from mentally ill - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Alabama law helps keep guns away from mentally ill

(Source: RNN) (Source: RNN)
(WAFF) -

The suspect in the Fort Lauderdale airport mass shooting had previously sought out mental health help and turned his gun in to authorities. The gun was returned to him when he was discharged four days later.

READ MORE: 5 killed, 8 hospitalized in shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport; gunman in custody

WAFF 48 News did some digging on Alabama law after finding out 26-year-old Esteban Santiago got his gun back following a stay in a mental facility. We found Alabama lawmakers recently took proactive steps to ensure a person can't have a gun if they're mentally ill or ordered to undergo psychological treatment.

According to WAFF 48 News legal analyst Mark McDaniel, federal law already prohibits anyone of what's called “unsound mind” from possessing a gun.

However, McDaniel said problems surfaced in who and how the federal government received notice about someone suffering from a mental illness. He said back in 2015, Alabama lawmakers changed the law so that if a person is involuntarily committed, then a local probate judge has to notify the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, who then notifies the FBI.

The committed person's name is then placed in a database.

McDaniel said state law also sets a clear standard on who law enforcement can't issue a pistol permit to.

“If a person has been committed, if a person is of, the law says unsound mind. Unsound mind is defined in the statute as a person is a threat to himself or other persons or a person who cannot contract or handle their personal affairs,” McDaniel said.

WAFF 48 News spoke to Madison County authorities about how this process keeps guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Madison County Chief Deputy Dave Jernigan said they have a system in place that follows both state and federal law.

If someone is deemed mentally ill by the court and involuntarily committed, then it is going to be nearly impossible for to get a permit or purchase a gun from a gun store because it'll flag on the background check.

Jernigan said it's not a perfect system but it's efficient in keeping the public safe.

“Most times we'll catch people when we try to apply. We have the nix check and it tells us that they're not qualified for a weapon and the system works,” Jernigan said.

Jernigan said law enforcement can run into a few problems, and it points to examples like paperwork not being filed in a timely matter.

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