COLUMBUS At least four people, including two in Lucas County, improperly received permits to carry concealed weapons because Ohio has not been conducting mental-health background checks as required under its concealed-carry law, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann said yesterday.
A check of the state s database in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings two weeks ago showed that two people in Lucas County had been issued permits to carry hidden handguns who should not have been.
Two others in Lorain and Summit counties held permits before being adjudicated mentally ill and should have lost those permits.
Mr. Dann said he could not identify the people involved because of privacy laws.
The two people in Lucas County no longer have permits. The other two people have active permits.
The state does not know how many people may have been allowed to illegally purchase firearms because Ohio has failed to forward the same information to the FBI for entry into the database it uses for background checks.
I am absolutely livid, said Mr. Dann, a Democrat who took office in January.
He characterized the problem as serious and inexcusable and said he was investigating to see who dropped the ball that Ohio s 2003 law authorizing law-abiding citizens to carry hidden handguns put into play.
Nearly 90,000 Ohioans have received permits to carry hidden handguns since the law took effect three years ago. The law requires that all applicants for permits undergo criminal and mental health background checks.
It is notable that this failure came to light shortly after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, Mr. Dann said. The fact is that somebody equally as disturbed could have received a [concealed-carry weapon] permit in Ohio because of the previous administration s failure to perform these checks.
More significantly, somebody in that situation, and there may be others in Ohio, may have purchased weapons [because of] the FBI not having access to our database since 2004 , he said. Fortunately in this case there has not been any kind of occurrence or incidence that we all would have regretted.
Mr. Dann s Republican predecessor, Jim Petro, said he believes such checks were done, but the results were spotty and often inconclusive because state officials did not have fingerprints or Social Security numbers to work from. The database contained names and addresses.
My instruction was that we have to do the best we can with the information we have, said Mr. Petro, now in private legal practice in Columbus.
I operated under the presumption that that s what we did, but it was weak, he said. Somehow we should have nondisclosable retention of Social Security numbers and also take fingerprints to use as identifiers. That would greatly improve mental health records.
Toby Hoover, president of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said she has been trying to bring this situation to the attorney general s attention, most recently sending an e-mail to the office after the Virginia Tech incident. That s about the time Mr. Dann said his office discovered the lapse on its own.
My concern is twofold, Ms. Hoover said. Most people with mental illness harm themselves, not someone else. The other part is the false sense of security about prohibited buyers not getting a gun. Yes, they can.
Ohio s not alone, she said. We don t have our own background checks for purchase. We need to rely on the federal background check, and that s only as good as the information we give them.
The law created a database of names of people who have either been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or adjudicated mentally ill.
The law does not apply to someone who voluntarily seeks mental health treatment unless there is a court order associated with it.
Mr. Dann said that once his office discovered the problem, it cross-referenced the names of those issued permits with those in the database and discovered the four cases where permits were improperly issued.
It also found a fifth person in the database from Trumbull County who was denied a permit only because he was flagged by the criminal background check.
The attorney general noted that it is a felony to lie on a conceal-carry application, which specifically asks whether the applicant has ever been involuntarily committed for treatment.
Of the two Lucas incidents, Mr. Dann noted that one person was issued a 90-day temporary permit to carry a concealed firearm.
The person did not return for a permanent permit.
In the second case, Mr. Dann credited the county sheriff s office for knowing the individual who was issued a permit, a county employee, and knowing there was a history of trouble.
The sheriff s office requested that the county employee return the permit, which he did without dispute.
We thought we had all the information all these years, Sheriff James Telb said. We were comfortable with what we were doing on our end. There was no reason to question the state s information, and I m not sure how they discovered it in Columbus. The first [permit] we found out about on our own. The second one we didn t know about until last night.
Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said it appeared Mr. Dann had taken the appropriate steps to address the issue.
It s very difficult to weed out the few people who are a problem and not catch very good people who are not a problem, he said. We re not good at the mental illness game. There are so many fuzzy borders, so many diseases. But treated, people live normal lives.
Contact Jim Provance at:firstname.lastname@example.org 614-221-0496.