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Md. Mental Records to Be Checked In Gun Buys

"We couldn't verify it," Shipley said. "In the past, the investigators pretty much had to go on your word."

Courts keep public records of involuntary civil commitments to state hospitals, but apparently law enforcement officials did not put them in the state's database.

Gun rights and mental health advocates said they agree that firearms do not belong in the hands of the dangerously mentally ill. But they said they expected a public discussion to precede the adoption of any new policy resulting from the Virginia Tech massacre.

"If they're willing to pull this out of a hat, what else are they going to put through by fiat?" asked James M. Purtilo, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, who publishes a gun rights blog.

Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said the new regulations will "inundate law enforcement with records they have to review."

Herb Cromwell, president of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland, said he is skeptical that the database of mental health information will be used only for background checks.

"How protected is this? How public? How accessible?" he asked. "My understanding was that there was going to be a process of debating these very issues."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has formed a task force of lawmakers that is scheduled to meet during the fall to examine what Maryland can learn from the Virginia Tech shootings. Del. Peter A. Hammen (D-Baltimore), chairman of the health committee, said the panel might recommend legislation affecting access to mental health records.

State officials said they seek limited access to mental health records and would not, for example, examine records of a gun buyer's short stay at a clinic.

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