Call it the NCIS Effect.
In movies and television dramas, government agencies and evildoers alike are equipped with computer systems and databases that reach everywhere and know everything.
Some people will watch those shows and be impressed, and comforted, by the technical prowess possessed by the heroic agents charged with protecting us. Others may be more than a little bothered by the idea that our government, or anyone, has all that personal and private knowledge about us available at the touch of a button.
In real life, though, the depth and breadth of such information systems often falls short of our entertainment.
In some cases, in matters of personal privacy, that may be just as well.
In others, it is cause to be concerned.
For example, it has recently been reported that a relatively small number of crucial bits of information that were supposed to be fed into state and federal databases by a couple of Utah state agencies were accidentally omitted due to a technical glitch that apparently occurred when the system was updated.
People who have been found mentally incompetent are not supposed to be able to buy firearms. Or, at least, to be able to buy them legally from licensed dealers. Such a prohibition is widely favored by both gun-control advocates and all but the most fundamentalist supporters of Second Amendment rights.
So it was disconcerting to read the recent article by The Tribune’s Tiffany Caldwell that information that should be used to identify some people who should be banned from legally buying guns because they have been found to be mentally incompetent or committed to a mental health treatment facility was not transmitted from the court system to the proper agencies.
In the case of Utah’s own database, there was a four-month gap in the transmission of the data. And information from Utah that should have been filed with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System didn’t get there during a 13-month stretch that ended in March.
The goof only involved people who would be banned from gun purchases due to mental competency issues. It did not affect the much larger number of people who belong on the list due to felony convictions.
So far, no one knows of any cases of gun purchases by people who should have been blocked, but weren’t, due to this lapse. Certainly there is no known incident of murder, suicide or any other tragedy resulting from the glitch.
The point is that we have passed laws and created systems that are supposed to take firearms out of the hands of those who, just about everyone agrees, shouldn’t have them. But laws are enforced, and systems are created and maintained, by flawed, busy, sometimes overworked or under-equipped human beings. They aren’t magical things that work on their own.
They require competent staffing, sufficient funds and constant oversight. Or something really awful can happen.