Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Nearly three months before Robert R. Card II fatally shot 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, a gun shop declined to let him complete his purchase of a firearm sound suppressor after he disclosed on a form that he had mental health issues, the shop’s owner said in an interview Sunday.

On Aug. 5, Mr. Card, 40, went to pick up a suppressor from Coastal Defense Firearms in the neighboring town of Auburn, said Rick LaChapelle, the gun shop owner. Mr. LaChapelle said Mr. Card had bought the device, which quiets gun shots and is also sometimes called a silencer — from another store, and that store sent it to Coastal Defense Firearms for pickup.

The purchase attempt is one of the first indications that Mr. Card acknowledged having mental health issues. ABC News first reported on the purchase attempt.

Questions over Mr. Card’s mental health and his access to firearms have been a key issue in the investigation into the mass shooting, during which Mr. Card killed 18 people and injured 13 others at a bowling alley and a bar.

During a recent visit to a National Guard training facility outside Peekskill, N.Y., Mr. Card, an Army reservist, had a run-in with officials and was later evaluated at a mental health facility, according to a senior law enforcement official. But the Maine commissioner of public safety, Michael J. Sauschuck, said on Saturday that he had no information to suggest that Mr. Card had ever been forcibly committed for mental health treatment. Mr. Sauschuck did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When Mr. Card tried to pick up the suppressor, he acknowledged on a Form 4473 that he had mental health issues, Mr. LaChapelle said. Form 4473 is a federal document that must be filled out and signed in order to retrieve guns and firearm equipment like a suppressor, and it is used to determine whether someone can legally complete the purchase.

It is unclear whether he had indicated in the past any mental health issues on other forms related to his gun purchases. Officials have said that Mr. Card had legally purchased his weapons. This means that, if he bought them at a licensed dealer, he had passed background checks that included determining whether he was mentally fit to own a firearm.

The F.B.I. said in a statement that there was no information on Mr. Card in its background check system that would have prevented him from legally purchasing a gun.

On the Form 4473 Mr. Card filled out in August, one of the questions was, “Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?” Mr. Card checked the box, indicating yes, according to Mr. LaChapelle, who is also a city councilor in Lewiston.

Under federal law, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are two criteria that prohibit people with mental health issues from buying or possessing guns and firearm equipment like a suppressor.

The first is whether a court or other lawful authority has determined a person to be “a mental defective.” Among the determining factors is whether the person is a danger to themselves or others as a result of mental health issues.

The second is whether a person has been “committed to a mental institution,” meaning that person was at one point admitted involuntarily by a court or other authoritative body because of a mental illness or drug use. People who willingly go to a mental institution for treatment do not fall under the definition.

The staff at the gun shop waited until Mr. Card signed the document before declining to give him the suppressor. Mr. Card, in response, was “very cordial, very polite,” Mr. LaChapelle said.

“He says, ‘Not a problem. OK, let me have my attorney look at it, and I’ll just come back and get it later on,’” Mr. LaChapelle added. “Then he left the store and never came back.”

The Army said in a statement that in September, Mr. Card’s unit had requested that the Sagadahoc County sheriff’s office check on Mr. Card after the unit “became concerned for his safety.”

In September, Sheriff Joel Merry sent an alert to all law enforcement agencies in Maine after learning that Mr. Card had made threats against the military facility he was assigned to in Saco, the sheriff said in an interview on Saturday. It remains unclear whether other police agencies saw the alert.

Serge F. Kovaleski and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.

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