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Mental-health records are essential for background checks

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Massachusetts seems to think its gun laws are strong enough to protect it from the types of mass killings that have struck other states. But it’s taking an enormous risk by failing to provide mental-health records to a federal database for background checks on gun buyers. It’s urgent that lawmakers embrace House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s extensive package of new gun-control measures, including closing the mental-health loophole .

The state’s resistance to federal reporting requirements for patients with serious mental illness is based on privacy concerns and fear of stigmatizing the mentally ill. But the database is private, and its contents are irrelevant to everyone except gun purchasers. And while few mental health problems correlate with violence, some do, and using that information to prevent gun purchases by the wrong people serves a legitimate public interest.

After mass shootings like the one in California last week, gun owners and mental health advocates alike recoil at what they view as scapegoating. Indeed, both populations are overwhelmingly law-abiding and nonviolent. But the point of gun control isn’t to punish anyone. It’s to reduce, with the imperfect tools available, the chances that the next mass shooting happens here. The state has spent enough time pondering changes; a year and a half after the Sandy Hook massacre in next-door Connecticut, it’s time to act. By bringing the state into compliance with federal rules, DeLeo’s proposal moves Massachusetts in the right direction.

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