Do we need a federal gun database for mental illness? One family says yes

Reporter: Corey Lazar Photographer: Jacob McNamara, Elieset Gonzalez Producer: Carolyn Dolcimascolo
Published: Updated:

When we mention guns, it often sparks an instant reaction. People who own guns think someone might be trying to take away their rights; others are against firearms and many support responsible ownership.

But what about situations that lie somewhere in the cracks?

WINK News Anchor Corey Lazar sat down with a grieving family in Cape Coral that is now on a mission to create a new national database to regulate gun ownership for some.

gun database mental health

Larissa Strong began her journey after her daughter’s 21st birthday, which would also be Hailey Barrick‘s last birthday.

“She was mommy’s girl; always followed me around everywhere; always wanted me to hold her, and never wanted anybody else to hold her,” said an emotional Strong.

Hailey Barrick took her own life. All Strong has left are the memories.

gun database mental health

“She was she was a funny girl. She had the biggest blue eyes,” she added.
The extremely smart and full-of-life 21-year-old suffered mentally. But Hailey was able to buy a gun. She shot herself days after being released from a mental health hospital in South Dakota. She passed a criminal background check, and there is no waiting period to buy a weapon in South Dakota.

“48 hours after she got out, she had purchased a gun,” explained Strong. “And then within 48 hours of that, she shot herself in her Jeep where her discharge papers were sitting on her dash, and her blood is all over them.”

“With having a diagnosed mental illness — she’s on anti-psychotics, she’s on anti-anxiety, she’s on anti-depression medicine. She could walk into the gun store and affidavit-style check, ‘No, I don’t have any mental illness,’ sign the affidavit, pay $310.08 for the Taurus 380 semi-automatic and ammunition, and go home and plan to kill herself,” said the frustrated mom.
You are probably already assuming that now this family wants guns taken away, casting a wide net and infringing on your Second Amendment rights. But they own firearms. The family wants Hailey’s legacy to be stopping the sale of a weapon to someone who suffers mentally.

gun database mental health

“I don’t have a problem with this. And you know, everybody that I know, all of our friends that we know that have guns, they don’t have an issue with it,” stated Carla Messerli, Hailey’s heartbroken grandmother.

She has made it her mission to get a federal database created, one that is checked before anyone buys a gun.

“There has to be a database that puts mental health professionals right on the line where they’re supposed to be,” said an upset Messerli. “If they know somebody is getting treatment for mental health issues, and they know that they’ve been admitted to a mental health facility recently, or they are released, they should be reporting a name, a date of birth, and just four to six digits of their social security number. You don’t have to disclose anything else. Nothing. And that database can be restricted to only facilities that are licensed by the ATF to sell firearms.”

gun database mental health

None of the major mental health intake hospitals in southwest Florida would do an interview with Lazar for this story.

  • Park Royal Behavioral Health Services
  • SalusCare
  • Charlotte Behavioral Health
  • David Lawrence Center

It would partially fall on them to input the data into a database that this family believes would have prevented Hailey from buying a gun and taking her life.

Jessica Plazewski, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer with SalusCare provided a statement:
SalusCare, along with other licensed Baker Act Receiving Facilities, are highly regulated based on statutes and licensure requirements. What we can and can’t do is all based on that language. At this time, we do not have any feedback regarding the database.

The family also considered what else could have gone wrong.

“My daughter could have very easily been angry at everybody else who wasn’t depressed; everybody else who wasn’t upset; everybody else who doesn’t have borderline personality disorder; everyone else who was not on anti-psychotics; anybody else who has a normal life that she wanted,” reflected Strong. “She could have gotten that gun, gone to a school, a daycare, a parking lot, a mall, anywhere, an airport, and shot a lot of people. Then there would be a different discussion.”

Nobody wants to go through this kind of pain.

Carla Messerli, Hailey’s grandmother

So again, should someone in treatment or recently released from a mental health facility be able to buy a firearm?

“Everybody says, ‘Oh, we really need to do something about it,’ and nobody does anything,” added Messerli.

Remember, Hailey’s grandmother is a gun owner and a strong believer in the Second Amendment. To her, it only makes sense to pass a mental health background check.

“I know we’re going through a background check for a criminal background check. And I’m in a database for that. What’s one more database?” she added. “If they don’t find my name in there, great, I get a gun.”

Her family said Hailey marked no on the federal form when it asked about a mental illness. In Florida, you must also pass a criminal background check, but the state has a three-day holding period before you can take a firearm home.

We brought this mental illness database idea to FGCU Criminal Justice Professor Dr. David Thomas.

“They might be able to put like a red flag or a notification,” said Thomas.

According to Thomas, the big hurdle is the HIPPA Laws regarding a background check. The federal law is meant to protect your health care information.

“Medical records are prohibited from being in that system,” added Thomas. “So mental health will be part of your medical records so that stuff is not going to be in unless somebody decides up through federal statute that they want to allow that to take place.”

Lazar we reached out to our local representatives in Congress – Byron Donalds, Rick Scott, and Greg Steube. None of them would do an interview about this idea.

gun database mental health

“What would you do if this was your child?” asked Messerli. “I’m serious. She’s not my child. She’s my granddaughter, but I’m so close to her. And I love her.”

That’s why the family is pushing for change. They started an organization called Hailey’s Legacy and an online petition for new legislation. To learn more about their efforts and see the petition, click here.

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