To the editor:

The great failing in our current efforts to protect ourselves against violent criminals is the unreliability of the system of background checks for gun purchases. Time and again it has been found that a gunman has been able to pass a background check even though he was not legally entitled to buy a gun.

Fixing this problem should be our priority. Mental health information must be available for background checks. A study by the Secret Service found that 64 percent of those carrying out mass shootings showed symptoms of mental illness and 25 percent had received treatment. Making this information available need not violate the privacy rights of anyone (unless we move to “universal background checks”, in which case everyone selling even a single gun would need to have access to this sensitive data).

It’s especially crucial that schools and other government institutions cooperate in this way. The Parkland, Fla., student was known to have mental issues, but school officials decided not to inform law enforcement that he was a danger to others. They preferred to protect the student, while placing his classmates at risk.

It’s time to close the mental health loophole.

Peter J. Thomas

Silver Lake, N.J.

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