COLUMBUS, Ga. — The man who killed two women at a Louisiana movie theater last week was able to buy a firearm legally — despite a judge’s order sending him to a psychiatric hospital in 2008 — because he was never involuntarily committed for treatment, Georgia officials said Monday.
An involuntary commitment would have banned John Russell Houser from buying a firearm under the federal gun law that strengthened state reporting requirements after a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. But Houser never reached the crucial stage of having a judge rule on his mental competence, a process called adjudication, which is required before someone can be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility, officials said.
“If he had been adjudicated in need of involuntary treatment, I would have reported that to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who would then send it to the FBI,” said Muscogee County Probate Judge Marc E. D’Antonio, who was chief clerk at the time in the county that would have handled the case. “I clearly would have known. That did not happen.”
What did happen remains unclear. A state health official declined to say whether Houser was released from the West Central Georgia Regional Hospital or whether he voluntarily agreed to remain there for treatment. Mental health records are not open for public review.
Either way, Houser’s purchase of a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun at a pawnshop in Phenix City, Ala., last year was legal. Houser, 59, killed himself after the rampage on Thursday in Lafayette, La., that left two dead and nine injured.
This situation just should not have happened. This guy was obviously crazier than a bucket of bat you-know-what. I am confused by the involuntary committal vs all the loopholes that kept the judge from reporting. Somewhere we have to draw the line between people who go to counselling for help over some rough patches and people who are seriously mentally ill.
I don’t know why it is so difficult to determine if someone is dangerous. If people are dangerous, then slap them on a “no guns list.” Have an appeals process that is easy to access but that has some teeth in it. That’s a good place to start. Sane people don’t usually go on killing sprees.
I would like to add frequent intoxication to the “no guns list.” No, I don’t want state officials sitting outside bars taking count of how often people go in. However, DUI pull overs might just be a place to start. I don’t think one DUI should put you on the no gun list but 2 or 3 in a given time period should. Think of all the times the person wasn’t caught. Alcohol and guns do not mix well.
I would like to see gun advocates and organizations start talking about these situations in real terms rather than slogans and sound bites. Often these people are not “bad guys.” They are perfectly decent people with illnesses that lead them to do very bad things.