How Mentally Ill PA Shooter Evaded Gun Background Checks


The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at a case that illustrates the difficulties in denying guns to mentally-ill people. In 2011, John Shick met a man in a New Mexico parking lot and bought two pistols for $810. The seller did not know that Shick had been arrested a year earlier after acting erratically at an airport, that police had found a journal filled with paranoid ramblings, and that it had taken six people and a sedative to restrain him when he was taken to a mental hospital for a commitment ordered by a judge.

Last year, Shick walked into a psychiatric institute carrying both guns, he killed one person and wounded several others before police shot and killed him. He had bypassed a system of laws meant to keep guns from a man like him, diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed at least three times to mental hospitals in two states. That system is a messy conglomerate of state and federal laws that often don’t align and of databases that don’t communicate. Some 40 percent of gun purchases occur without background checks, and the National Instant Check System, or NICS, is missing reams of mental health records because many states have submitted relatively few, or none at all.

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