Despite evidence that Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner is mentally unstable, he was never declared mentally unfit by a court, so his name did not appear in the federal background-check database used by gun sellers.
The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits the possession of firearms by the mentally ill. So why was Mr. Loughner able to guy a gun?
The ability to own a firearm is a constitutionally protected right, and depriving someone of that right involves a legal process. Under the 1968 law, a person must be declared mentally unfit by a court or have been committed to a mental institution to lose his or her right to possess firearms.
In 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required the establishment of a national database known as the National Instant Background Check System (NICS), where the names of people ineligible to possess firearms are to be entered.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, such information is provided to the NICS Index by local, state, tribal, and federal agencies.
A store selling firearms is required to check with NICS before making a sale. In Mr. Loughner’s case, when the 22-year-old went to the Sportsman’s Warehouse outlet in Tucson, Ariz., on Nov. 30 to purchase a Glock 19 semiautomatic handgun, a background check was performed and he came up clear, according to the store manager. That Glock was used in Saturday’s rampage in Tucson that killed six people and injured 13 others, including the critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona.