Texas House votes to expand background checks to purchase firearms
Texas House lawmakers advanced May 16 a bill that would give federal law enforcement more information about Texans who have certain mental health conditions and intellectual disabilities during the routine background checks completed before someone can purchase a gun.
Senate Bill 728, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, follows the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act by including information about a court’s action on someone’s mental condition in background checks. The bill would require county clerks to send this information to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which would then share it with the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Clerks would be required to inform the DPS if a court determines that someone at least 16 years old:
- Is unfit to go to trial due to an intellectual disability or mental illness
- Is not responsible for their actions due to an intellectual disability or mental illness
- Must receive inpatient services for a mental illness
- Must receive long-term residential care for an intellectual disability
- After the court ruling, clerks would have 30 days to send the information to state law enforcement.
SB 728 was presented in the House by Republican Rep. Jeff Leach, who represents Allen, where eight people were killed at an outlet mall May 6.
Leach said the bill would “(keep) firearms out of the hands of dangerous Texans who do not need to have them.”
He emphasized the bill does not create a “red flag law.” This type of law, which is generally opposed by Texas Republicans, prevents someone from buying or owning guns if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others-regardless of whether they have committed a crime or received a court order.
“This bill does not change any existing federal or state law regarding firearms-it simply adheres to existing federal law and their new requirements to report this data to NICS,” Leach said. “This bill will go a long way to ensuring that our state and federal databases are linked, and that the process is more efficient and effective.”
Texas does not have a statewide database to store information about court decisions regarding someone’s mental illness or intellectual disability. As a result, Leach said the FBI has to contact individual county courts if it needs this information for background checks.
If the bill becomes law, this information would be stored in one place.
The House initially approved SB 728 on May 16. If it passes during a final vote May 17, the bill will head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.