A more complicated but equally pressing quandary is addressing the current laws regarding classifying an individual as "mentally defective" and putting him or her on a prohibited purchasers list. As the law stands, the reporting of states on mental health rulings is voluntary -- meaning that the federal government, responsible for conducting the background checks, does not necessarily get a comprehensive picture of mental rulings.
In order for someone to be put on a prohibited purchasers list, a court has to rule that they are mentally unfit, which only addresses a small percentage of the population who may pose a danger.
Speaking of the person who opened fire in a Tucson, Ariz., parking lot, wounding former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killing six other people, Winkler said, "We know that Jared Loughner was kicked out of school because he was thought to be unfit, he was rejected from joining the military. ... But there was no way for those institutions to report to the federal government and put him on a prohibited purchasers list."
Figuring out how to improve upon the current requirements for reporting mental health data without violating privacy laws is going to be a bigger challenge for legislatures, Winkler noted.
"Can you broaden that definition in a way that's effective and protects privacy rights?" he asked. "That's going to take some doing."