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Law enforcement officials aim to keep guns away from mentally ill

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A coalition of top Minnesota law enforcement officials are pressing legislators to make a number of changes to ensure guns don't get into the wrong hands.

The Star Tribune reports sheriffs, prosecutors, police chiefs, a judge and a bi-partisan group of legislators gathered Wednesday to demand that lawmakers overhaul the state's loose background check system for people seeking to purchase firearms.

"We have an 'access' problem when it comes to guns--the severely mentally ill should never have access to guns," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said.

According to the newspaper, state court records show that at least 84 people have been charged since 2000 with illegal gun possession or assault with a dangerous weapon despite being previously committed by a judge as mentally ill.

Of that group, 29 people were charged with multiple counts of weapons possession and nine were considered to be mentally ill and dangerous.

The coalition also calls for better health care for inmates. Hennepin County Judge Jay Quam, who has presided over cases in mental commitment court says too many mentally ill inmates sit in jail cells instead of getting the help they need.

Quam offers a somewhat surprising fact to the Pioneer Press: the three largest health facilities in the country are the Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago jails.

Another piece of the proposed overhaul would give police officers better access to mental health records when responding to emergency calls.

"Whether they go to the hospital or end up in jail, that makes a big difference depending on the kind of information we have," said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-Cottage Grove, a veteran police officer.

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