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Legislature OKs bill to improve mental health records in gun background check system

SB158 would require reporting of involuntary commitment orders for inpatient and outpatient care to ALEA.

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With a House vote of 86-15 and unanimous Senate approval, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to report involuntary commitment orders to law enforcement on Thursday.

Senate Bill 158 would report involuntary commitment orders for inpatient and outpatient care to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and place such orders into the firearms prohibited persons database and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“This is just a continued worthy effort to ensure that we’re able to appropriately deal with individuals in our communities that are getting treatment for their mental health issues, giving law enforcement all the tools that we need to be able to interact with them,” Rep. Russell Bedsole, R-Alabaster, said. “Law enforcement did not have the tools necessary to know that they were maybe coming in contact with someone who is under some treatment at the time. It didn’t give them the opportunity to handle the situation with all the information.”

Alabama law already requires individuals involuntarily committed on the basis of inappropriate use of firearms to be placed in NICS. Involuntary commitment itself does not appear to make an individual a prohibited person under Alabama law, though it may under federal law.

Bill author Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Baldwin, argued that officers should be aware of involuntary commitment orders and the prohibited persons database could give them ready access to the information. It is not clear if individuals on the database would then become de facto prohibited persons.

Al Tolbert, chief of police for Bay Minette, spoke his support of the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. He told the committee of an officer-involved shooting in August 2022. During a traffic stop, a Bay Minette officer shot and killed a suspect.

“This individual had been involuntarily committed several times and had about a 10-year history of mental illness. There’s no doubt in my mind: had this flag been entered into the database, I believe this officer would have treated this situation differently, and the outcome would have been different,” Tolbert said. “Anything that we can do to help law enforcement out there recognize people with mental illness is huge because we’re dealing with mental patients every day.”

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Samuel Stettheimer is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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