Background Check System Failed In Lafayette Murders

John Russell Houser, the “drifter” who murdered two and wounded several more in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, was crazy as a loon. That isn’t unusual in such cases, but what is unusual is that Houser was involuntarily committed to a mental institution in 2008. That fact should have prevented him from buying the gun that he used to commit murder, but the federal government’s NICS system failed. The Associated Press reports:

Despite obvious and public signs of mental illness — most importantly, a Georgia judge’s order committing him to mental health treatment against his will as a danger to himself and others in 2008 — Houser was able to walk into an Alabama pawn shop six years later and buy a .40-caliber handgun.

It was the same weapon Houser used to kill two people and wound nine others before killing himself at a Thursday showing of “Trainwreck.”

The court records reviewed by The Associated Press strongly suggest Houser should have been reported to the state and federal databases used to keep people with serious mental illnesses from buying firearms, legal experts said.

“It sure does seem like something failed,” said Judge Susan Tate, who presides over a probate court in Athens, Georgia, and has studied issues relating to weapons and the mentally ill. “I have no idea how he was able to get a firearm.”

Houser never should have been able to buy a gun, said Sheriff Heath Taylor in Russell County, Alabama, whose office denied him a concealed weapons permit in 2006 based on arson and domestic violence allegations, even though the victims declined to pursue charges.

… Federal law does generally prohibit the purchase or possession of a firearm by anyone who has ever been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment. That’s what happened to Houser in 2008 after his family accused him of threatening behavior, warning authorities that he had a history of manic depression or bipolar disorder and was making ominous statements.

It isn’t clear exactly what went wrong, but the simplest explanation is that the Georgia court that entered the confinement order simply failed to report it to the Georgia Crime Information Center. Thus, Houser’s name never was entered into the NICS database.

Of course, we can’t assume that if the system had worked properly, and Houser had been denied the ability to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, the Lafayette murders would not have happened. Houser might well have been able to obtain a gun through other means. Nevertheless, this incident illustrates two points:

1) Liberals are constantly proposing legislation to extend NICS to firearms transactions that don’t involve licensed dealers. As I have written repeatedly, the major problem with NICS is not that it doesn’t cover transactions between relatives, etc., but rather that the database is deficient. All mass shooters (I am not including terrorists here) are more or less crazy, but the vast majority are not in the database. So the exercise becomes futile, as it was here.

2) Whenever something bad happens, liberals demand new laws. A common response, especially in the gun control context, is: How about if we enforce the laws we already have? That makes sense to most people, but somehow liberals are more interested in enacting new laws than in enforcing existing ones. Here, the right law was on the books, but, as so often happens, government failed to execute. But liberals rarely seem to care about improving government’s actual performance. They just want the satisfaction of moral preening.