2 tech bugs affected Utah’s gun background check on mentally ill for over a year

Thursday , April 12, 2018 - 5:15 AM

Two tech glitches are now fixed after disrupting Utah’s gun background check database for prohibited mentally ill people for over a year, according to new information obtained by the Standard-Examiner.

The Standard-Examiner previously reported that a technical problem kept 900 records from Utah’s gun background check system. At the time, officials with the state courts system said the issue spanned about a year. 

A further investigation reveals the glitches happened within two state agencies and spanned 13 months. The issues affected 1,567 records in total that were supposed to enter the national database.

The first glitch occurred on Feb. 16, 2017, when Utah’s records for restricted mentally ill cases stopped flowing to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database launched by the FBI to keep guns out of the hands of those prohibited by state and federal laws.

RELATED: Utah ran over 100,000 gun background checks last year; here’s how they work

The interruption went unnoticed until an FBI representative contacted the Department of Public Safety on March 21, according to a statement from Utah State Courts. The department is responsible for uploading mental illness records to the NICS on behalf of the state courts.

The gap is said to be caused by a system upgrade and means those records were missing from the national gun background check system, the courts’ statement said.

This technical problem likely didn’t have a negative effect on Utah’s in-state gun background checks because it only affected what was sent to the national database. The records would still prevent someone from buying a gun in Utah, but not in another state.

However, a second system failure that happened nine months later likely compromised Utah’s system. About 500 new records were kept from the state’s own background check system.

The Bureau of Criminal Identification, which operates within the Department of Public Safety and runs Utah’s background checks, every night receives records from Utah’s state courts of mentally ill people who are prohibited from purchasing a gun.

On Nov. 16, 2017, the flow of records from the state court system to the bureau came to a halt without anyone noticing.

Both the courts and the state public safety agency were unaware of the problem until the Standard-Examiner’s inquiry in late March, according to Geoffrey Fattah, Utah State Courts communication director.

RELATED: Tech bug kept about 900 records from Utah’s gun background check system in 2017

Initially, Fattah told the Standard-Examiner that the court system stopped sending mental records to the state last February, affecting about 900 records.

However, it was later discovered the malfunction actually occurred in November, affecting 541 new records and 909 modified records. Modified records refer to cases that already existed in the national database but required more information.

As a result, it was possible for those restricted people to successfully obtain a firearm in Utah during the malfunction for four months.

“But the possibility is very small,” Lance Tyler, supervisor of the Brady Bill division at BCI said, noting that it’s difficult for the prohibited mentally ill to attempt to buy a firearm because they are usually under the care of doctors.

Both systems were fixed by March 26. The public safety agency sent all 1,567 records — including some 100 records held up in the state’s database — to the national background check database.

The Utah courts spokesperson said the courts added an additional coding to create an alert if this malfunction happens again.

Tyler said there is no way to tell how many restricted people purchased a gun before the glitches were corrected.

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