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Government Shutdown in Minnesota Halts Mental Health Check for Gun Permits

shooting range

Man performs target practice at a shooting range (AP)

As if Minnesotans didn't have enough to worry about with a government shutdown over the last two weeks, some residents are now expressing fear that the mentally ill could start packing heat since no one is available to sign off with the appropriate mental health records.

"We don't want to see somebody get a gun that should be prohibited by law to have it," Joe Penaz, who teaches a class on the ins and outs of the state's permit to carry law, told MyFoxTwinCities.

Under state law, county sheriff's departments have 30 days to process permit-to-carry applications in which they review an applicant's criminal history, driving record and other criteria as part of a 10-point background check. But because the state Department of Health and Human Services is closed, deputies can't check an applicant's mental health history, MyFoxTwinCities reported.

In Dakota County, where permits are still being issued, Sheriff Dave Bellows says that under normal operations, the health department would let county authorities know whether anyone has ever been hospitalized by court order, a situation that is a deal breaker for getting a gun.

Bellows said even though that's not happening now, he's not overly concerned about a rush for guns among those with mental health questions.

"I just want to emphasize that the number of people that have ever been disqualified through this one particular check is extremely small. Is there is risk? Yeah. But it's a very small risk," he told the news channel.

The permits are being issued with a letter explaining that deputies weren't able to conduct a normal background check and notification that the permit will be revoked if they find something that would disqualify the permit-holder when the government reopens.

Penaz noted that even if government were operational, it's still a challenge to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

"If their ultimate objective is to carry a gun, you don't necessarily have to do that by going through the permit process," he said.