In early August, Robert Card went to a gun store to finalize a purchase he had made online. Card was hoping to take possession of a firearm suppressor — known more commonly as a silencer — he had bought, a purchase that necessitated completing the paperwork mandated for such a purchase by federal law. One forms included yes/no questions, including whether he had ever been “adjudicated as a mental defective OR … ever been committed to a mental institution?” Card indicated that he had. because he checked “yes,” the store denied his purchase. When Card opened fire with a rifle in Lewiston, Maine, killing 18 people, his weapon was not suppressed; one social media user reported hearing the shots a half-mile away, reports the Washington Post.
The owner of the store that rejected the purchase told ABC News that the lack of a suppressor may have provided more warning to people nearby, lowering the death toll. What would have happened had Card not admitted his hospitalization? Could he have made the purchase? Since the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) started 25 years ago, about 2.3 million background checks have been denied by NICS. More than 465 million checks have been conducted. About 77,000 were denied because the applicant had an “adjudicated mental health” issue. This category of denial was bolstered after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, when it was learned that the shooter should have been prevented from buying a firearm because of his mental health status, but information wasn’t available to the FBI. In the past seven years, there have been about 50,000 denials for “adjudicated mental health.” It’s not clear whether Card’s mental health status would have been logged in the systems the FBI uses to issue such a denial.