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.
Arizona, well known for its low barriers to gun possession, also prohibits the possession of firearms by anyone found to “constitute a danger to himself or others” and whose right to possess a firearm has not been restored under the requirements laid out by state law.
The best-known evidence of Loughner’s mental issues comes from Pima Community College, where he was suspended last year apparently because of mental problems. The college informed him that he could return only if he obtained “a mental health clearance indicating that, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the college does not present a danger to himself or others.”
There is no known record that a court had ever declared Loughner mentally unfit or that he had ever been committed to a mental institution.
But even if that had been the case, there’s no guarantee that Loughner’s name would have appeared in the national database. Some states have been slow to report names that belong in the “do not sell” list, even after Congress passed a law in 2007 aimed at punishing states with inadequate compliance records and providing incentives to states with good reporting records.
The law passed after the Virginia Tech shooting that year, in which a mentally ill student killed 32 people. In 2005, a judge had declared the shooter, Seung Hui Cho, a danger to himself and ordered him into psychiatric care. But Mr. Cho was still able to purchase two semiautomatic handguns, because his name did not appear in the NICS database.