The Lafayette killer John Houser would not have been able to buy a gun if he were from Louisiana, according to Gov. Bobby Jindal, because state courts here must notify the feds whenever they lock up a nutcase.
Houser would thus never have passed the background check required for gun purchases.
When Jindal so opined on national TV, it was universally believed that a Georgia court had ordered Houser confined to a mental hospital. But that was in 2008, five years before the Louisiana Legislature passed a law requiring involuntary committals to be reported for entry into a national database.
Thus, had Houser lived in Louisiana, his mental problems would never have been revealed in time to stop him buying the gun with which he opened fire in that movie theater.
The quality of our politicians in Louisiana is really going down. They used to spin tall tales better than this.
As it turned out, media reports that Houser had been involuntarily committed were wrong. Otherwise, according to Georgia officials, the feds would have been tipped off. Houser had been ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation after one of his periodic manic episodes, but that was not enough to require that he be reported as disqualified from possessing firearms under federal law.
Whether Georgia would have told the feds if Houser had been involuntarily committed in 2008 we will never know, but we may be certain Louisiana would not have reported him. Before last year, Louisiana made hardly any attempt to stop the mentally unstable from getting their hands on guns.
The law mandating that state courts report involuntary committals concedes as much, noting, with considerable understatement, that “the reporting of judicial decisions has not been consistent, nor has the information been uniformly reported to the FBI.”
That’s why it was necessary to pass legislation belatedly spelling out that clerks of court must report involuntary committals to the state Supreme Court, which then ensures the dope is available for the federal background checks required when guns are bought from licensed dealers.
The 2014 law, though irrelevant to the Lafayette atrocity, may well stop some other lunatic from getting his hands on a gun. But it is a long way from foolproof, for no background checks are required for private purchases at gun shows or elsewhere. According to Ari Freilich, attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, some 40 percent of gun buys in this country do not involve licensed dealers. So the mentally ill would have no trouble buying a firearm.
That, of course, is jake with Jindal, who rejects any suggestion that background checks should be expanded and says he is proud that Louisiana subjects gun laws to “strict scrutiny” and thereby rules out virtually any restriction.
“Louisianians are nearly twice as likely as the average American to be shot to death,” Freilich points out, because they “live in a state that has weak and loophole-ridden gun laws.” Given that America leads the world in gun deaths by a wide margin, Louisiana pre-eminence is quite an achievement. Jindal must be almost bursting with pride.
Yet, after Houser’s deadly shooting spree, Jindal professed himself surprised. You’d “never imagine” this could happen in Louisiana, he said. The quality of our politicians in Louisiana is really going down. Time was they would have blushed to talk such tosh. A mass shooting was always in the cards in Louisiana, all the more so since Jindal decided a slavish adherence to the NRA was where the votes are.
Jindal, as usual, declared that the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting is no time to discuss gun control. Indeed, he has denounced broaching the subject as an attempt to exploit tragedy for the sake of “cheap political points.” But the appropriate time to discuss gun control never arrives, because mass shootings are so frequent that another one always comes around while everyone is still under instructions from the likes of Jindal to pray over the last one.
What we are supposed to pray for is never explained, but it is presumably not for policies that might reduce gun deaths, which run about 30,000 a year in this country. That’s the kind of cheap political point that Jindal’s piety will not entertain.
Instead, he issued an executive order for the State Police to take “swift and immediate” action should the vile Westboro Baptist Church disrupt the funerals of Houser’s victims. If the idea was for the cops to enforce existing laws against disturbing the peace, the order was superfluous. If the idea was to go further, it was unconstitutional. In the end, Westboro was a no-show, but Jindal had prayerfully managed to make a really cheap political point.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.