Martha Bellisle, reporter, Reno Gazette Journal
BY MARIE ANDRUSEWICZ -- It took only six hours for a 19-year-old deemed mentally incompetent to buy a gun from a Reno-area police officer, even though the man has Asperger’s Syndrome, struggles with depression and has regularly threatened suicide.
It’s illegal to knowingly sell a gun to a buyer determined to be mentally ill, but since the officer, Laura Conklin, didn’t know his status, her lawyer says she didn’t violate the law. As a private seller she is not required to search a database to determine whether the purchaser can legally own a gun.
“When I spoke with (Governor Sandoval’s) office about this, because the veto (of universal background checks) and that bill came into play, his spokesperson said that a person who is making a sale has to do due diligence to determine whether the person is legal,” says Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Martha Bellisle who broke the story. “But when I spoke to the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms in Washington D.C., I asked, ‘So what does the law require a person to do just as a private seller? What do you have to do?’ And he said ‘Nothing, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t even have to ask for his driver’s license.”
The officer did ask to see the man’s driver’s license and whether he had been convicted of a crime. The buyer himself answered questions from a check list on the website where he found the gun to see if he qualified for ownership, and because he passed all the requirements – mainly that he was over 18 – he assumed his purchase was legal.
If the officer had searched the database she would not have found his name. Due to a “glitch in the system” the Washoe district court did not forward the purchasers determination of incompetence to the appropriate authorites.
“They’re supposed to send those records to the Department of Public Safety so the names can be inputted into their criminal history database, and that’s what gets tapped when you fill out a form to have a background check done,” says Bellisle.
But due to a ‘glitch in the system’ that they say has since been resolved, the Washoe courthouse didn’t forward the record.
According to the boy’s mother, his disease, Asperger’s, causes him to be really meticulous. She said had her son been required to fill out the background checks form, he would have seen that he wasn’t legally qualified to own a gun, and he wouldn’t have made the purchase.
“It’s really messy,” says Bellisle.