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Mental Health and Guns: Tampa Bay area dealers say it's a challenge

6:04 PM, Sep 17, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, FL -- The mass shooting at the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. is bound to revive the gun control debate again... specifically, the need for improved mental health checks.

While just about everyone seems to agree there needs to be more done, how could it work? In almost every one of the recent mass shooting cases, we've learned -- after the fact -- that the gunman had mental issues. Then we hear people question why this person ever had access to guns.

But even if the current laws were changed, it may not be the safety net people hope for.

At Shooting Sports, a gun shop along N. Dale Mabry in Tampa, they sell guns just about every day and fill out paperwork for legally required background checks. And if suspect Aaron Alexis had walked through their doors last week to buy a gun?

"As a legal dealer, we would have sold him a firearm," admits store manager Jason Collazo, who agrees that's a problem.

Alexis had two previous run-ins with law enforcement for discharging a weapon in a fit of anger. People knew he had a short fuse.

As recently as a month ago, he sought help for mental illness from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

While Collazo says he doesn't want to sell a gun to someone like that, "it's one of those situations where if I don't know that he has those past issues, then yes, he would have been sold a firearm."

In two previous mass shootings, there were similar obstacles.

Accused Aurora gunman James Holmes legally purchased thousands of rounds of ammo, explosives, chemicals and four guns months before prosecutors say he opened fire on a crowded movie theater.

Only later did people speak about his mental issues.

And while Sandy Hook Elementary shooter Adam Lanza's mental history may have actually kept him from obtaining guns, it didn't stop his mother... who had five legally-registered weapons. Lanza brought at least three of those with him to the school that horrible day.

"I think we can all agree that our mental health system is broken," said NRA President Wayne LaPierre.

LaPierre suggested at congressional hearings earlier this year that reform is needed.

"From early detection to treatment. To civic commitment laws, to privacy laws that needlessly prevent mental health records from being included in the national registry," he said.

But LaPierre has stopped short of endorsing universal background checks at gun shows, which critics say is another potential loophole. At gun shows, private parties and collectors can exchange weapons with no criminal or mental background checks at all.

"As tight a security as they have, things still get through. It's going to happen," says Collazo.

He says that's why any law -- as well intended as it may be -- could be very difficult to enforce.

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