U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is asking federal authorities to open a full investigation into how a movie theater murderer with a checkered past was able to legally purchase his gun.
John Russell Houser, 59, allegedly killed two and injured nine others at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana, last Thursday. Although he had been denied a concealed carry permit in 2006 by his local sheriff over a past arson charge and had mental health issues in Georgia that included a brief involuntary commitment, Houser was able to legally purchase a Hi Point .40 caliber handgun over the counter last year after passing a mandated federal background check.
This, the New York senator argues, needs to be evaluated.
Schumer penned a letter to Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James B. Comey this week with a list of concerns on how the agency’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System may have failed.
“I’d like to request that the FBI conduct an investigation into (1) whether John Houser did, in fact, purchase his gun legally and after a background check; (2) whether the fact that he passed the background check was the result of any errors or problems in the system; (3) whether problems in Georgia or any other state’s record keeping and submission inhibited the ability for the NICS system to function fully; and (4) whether there are inconsistencies in the submission of records for people with mental health issues across states, and if so where the biggest challenges lie,” wrote Schumer.
The Lafayette attack came just weeks after a troubled young man with a criminal history that included drug charges – Dylan Roof – purchased a handgun in South Carolina which was later used in the murder of nine clergy and parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. In the days following that event, FBI Director Comey revealed Roof was not denied a firearms purchase due to a procedural error in the bureau.
This, Schumer also mentioned in his letter.
“A fully functioning National Instant Criminal Background Check System is absolutely critical in our fight to stop the constant barrage of innocent deaths from gun violence,” said the prominent New York Democrat in closing.
Firearms industry trade groups have long-argued NICS needed improvements, especially when it comes to individual states reporting those with mental health concerns to the database.
Since 2011, the number of mental health prohibiting records submitted from the states to the federal database has more than tripled.
For this the National Shooting Sports Foundation, through its FixNICS program that aims to improve the database by submitting all records establishing an individual is a prohibited person, is taking credit.
“As our updated report demonstrates, it is the firearms industry, through the NSSF’s FixNICS campaign, that is directly responsible for the marked improvement in the reporting of disqualifying mental health records to NICS by the states,” the group’s senior vice president and general counsel, Larry Keane, told Guns.com previously.
The four million mental health records held in the NICS index amount to just under a third of the 13.5 million overall prohibiting reports as of the end of June.
This figure dwarfs the 2.1 million felons and 476,650 known fugitives from justice in the database. The number one category, accounting for half of the records, is for the 6.5 million known individuals classified as illegal/unlawful aliens.