Gov. Sean Parnell has signed legislation that supporters say would prevent gun dealers from unknowingly selling a handgun to someone deemed unfit by the courts to have one.
House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage) sponsored House Bill 366, which passed the Legislature unanimously shortly before adjournment. The measure affects what details Alaska courts might provide to the National Instant Criminal Background Check Service, also known as NICS -- an acronym Pruitt partially takes issue with.
"Unfortunately, the database is incorrectly named,” Pruitt said. “It's called the Instant Criminal Database. In this case, these people might not be criminals, they've had some psychological issues, and we’re just taking a step back.”
The bill allows the courts to forward additional information to the database that wasn’t available before -- information Pruitt says pertains to when someone is involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
The legislation is geared toward protecting gun dealers who may unknowingly sell a gun to someone who isn’t eligible to have one.
The legislation also allows those who have been placed in the database to petition the court to have their name removed if they have made progress in treatment.
Standards used to determine mental health within NICS are high. Mental health advocates say a review of applications for those purchasing a gun show that over a 15-year period, there's only a 25 to 30 percent disqualification rate of all applicants.
“When it comes to gun violence, mental illness is much more likely to contribute to the risk of self-inflicted death by firearm through suicide, then violence through another person,” said Kate Burkhart, executive director of the Alaska Mental Health Board.
Pennsylvania, Texas and California have already passed similar laws.
Editor's note: An initial version of this story inaccurately stated that Kate Burkhart was director of the Alaska Mental Health Trust.