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Western Psych Shooting Renews Debate Over Mentally Ill’s Access To Guns

Photo Credit: KDKA-TV

Photo Credit: KDKA-TV

Andy Sheehan Andy Sheehan
KDKA-TV Investigator Andy Sheehan began his broadcast journalism...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When John Shick entered Western Psych he was armed with a box of ammunition and two handguns, which were later found by his prone body.

Investigators initially said the guns had been stolen, but it turns out they were purchas ed from a gun dealer in Albuquerque, N.M., in April of last year.

The seller believes he sold both firearms plus a holster to a man matching John Shick’s description.

Shick’s purchase of the guns was, on the surface, legal — even though he was involuntarily committed in Oregon in December 2009 after a melee with police.

It is illegal to sell a gun to someone with a mental illness who has been involuntarily committed, but Oregon is one of many states that apparently has not given that information over to a national database.

“Only 13 states have laws which authorize the reporting of mental health records to the database,” said District Attorney Stephen Zappala.

Without a comprehensive national database, Zappala said people with a history of mental illness simply need to purchase their guns in a state where they were not committed.

“That’s politics at the highest level,” said Zappala. “The last time there was meaningful discussion of this was after the Virginia Tech shootings.”

Prior to shooting 32 people at Virginia Tech in April 2007, the gunman purchased several firearms even though the courts ruled him a danger to himself and ordered him into treatment three years before.

And though calls for a comprehensive national database of the mentally ill grew out of the tragedy, states still have the option of not participating.

It is far from clear that even if Shick was denied access to guns in New Mexico that this tragedy would have been averted, but authorities hope this will refocus attention to the mentally ill and their access to firearms.

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