A troubling new report from the Florida Auditor General reveals incomplete and inaccurate record keeping may be putting guns in the hands of mentally-ill buyers.
Legally, anyone who is on the Mentally Defective Database called MECOM or has a court-ordered commitment to a mental institution can't buy a gun. But according to the eight-page report, the information in that database isn't always complete or accurate.
"Ninety percent of all suicides are people with a mental illness, so you add a gun to that equation and, I mean, the lethality of that, you know, is much higher," said Denise Marzullo, executive director of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement oversees MECOM, which tracks people with mental health problems. They're flagged in the system, so if they try to buy a weapon they're background check will show it and they'll be turned away.
Since 2007, the report shows, of the 26,000 records, more than 11,000 of them were entered late. Some 4,000 of those by more than three years.
And between 2011 and 2013, records hadn't even been created for 10 counties. Nearly 200 files had the person's date of birth wrong, and 17,000 didn't have the person's gender listed.
They're findings FDLE officials say they're actively working to fix.
"We feel confident that we have established the partnerships that when we have an issue identified, that we work with the stakeholders and contributors of the data to make sure it's correct and there's the assurance piece to it," said Donna Yuzzell, director of Criminal Justice Information Services for FDLE.
For Ziadeh Farhat, manager at Green Acres Sporting Goods, requiring more detailed information in background checks would help curb the problem. Farhat admits there's an added layer of policing at his store.
"We'll get people who come in and they fill the paperwork out and they get approved, but you can tell there's something wrong with them," Farhat said. "So in our minds, if we're not comfortable with the sale in any way shape or form, we'll just turn it down because it's just not worth it."
With the Auditor General now recommending FDLE and the Clerk of Courts iron out the errors, mental health experts say they can't afford to get it wrong and need to act fast before anyone else slips through the cracks.
"We all make mistakes. That's fine," Marzullo said. "But when it comes to sensitive information like this, we absolutely have to double check and cross our Ts and dot our Is."
Mental health experts say it's important that gun sellers take a long, hard look at the potential buyer. If they are acting erratically, fidgety, or have a strong sense of urgency that they need the gun right away, those are all red flags sellers shouldn't ignore and a sign to turn that person away.