Background Checks

Here’s part of an article by Carlie Kollath Wells that appeared in The Times-Picayune newspaper: “CARROLLTON, Ga. — John Russell Houser’s mental problems were well known to many, though perhaps not to the store that sold him the .40-caliber handgun used in a deadly attack on a Louisiana movie theater. A federal background check came back clean, the pawn shop said, with no red flags raised at the time of sale.”  The fact that nothing came up in a federal background check shouldn’t come as a surprise to any reader of this blog!

Here are the categories of people ineligible to own a firearm:

  • Fugitives from justice.
  • Unlawful users of certain depressant, narcotic, or stimulant drugs.
  • Those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents or those committed to any mental institution.
  • Illegal aliens.
  • Citizens who have renounced their citizenship.
  • Those persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.
  • Persons less than 18 years of age for the purchase of a shotgun or rifle.
  • Persons less than 21 years of age for the purchase of a firearm that is other than a shotgun or rifle.
  • Persons subject to a court order that restrains such persons from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner.
  • Persons convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

The apparent problem in this instance is that Houser was never formally adjudicated as mentally defective or incompetent; nor had he been committed to a mental institution.  He had never been convicted of a crime, felony, or misdemeanor, involving domestic violence.  As a result, there was nothing about Houser in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, which would have disqualified him from purchasing a weapon.

In many instances, even among those who would otherwise be ineligible to purchase a firearm, the conviction record isn’t added to any sort of national data base.  In this instance, even though people were aware of Houser’s mental problems, there was never any finding that he was legally defective or incompetent – and, even if there had been, there’s no guarantee the finding would have made it into the NICS.

Once again, flaws in national criminal background checking data bases should be readily apparent; and this, again, proves that no national data base can be relied upon for completeness or being up-to-date.