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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 silencer after he disclosed on a form that he had mental health issues, the shop’s owner said in an interview Sunday.
Card, 40, went to pick up a silencer on Aug. 5 from Coastal Defense Firearms in the neighboring town of Auburn, said Rick LaChapelle, the gun shop owner. LaChapelle said Card had bought the silencer — a device that quiets gun shots that is also known as a suppressor — from another store, and that store sent it to Coastal Defense Firearms for pickup.
The purchase attempt is one of the first indications that Card acknowledged having mental health issues. ABC News first reported on the purchase attempt.
Questions over Card’s mental health and his access to firearms have been a key issue in the investigation into the mass shooting, during which 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, New York, 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 Maine Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Sauschuck said Saturday that he had no information to suggest that Card had ever been forcibly committed for mental health treatment.
Sauschuck did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When Card tried to pick up the gun silencer, he admitted to having mental health issues on a Form 4473, LaChapelle said. Form 4473 is a federal document that must be filled out and signed in order to retrieve guns and firearm equipment such as a silencer, and it is used to determine whether a someone can 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 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.
In a statement, the FBI said there was no information on Card in its background check system that would have prevented him from legally purchasing a gun.
On the Form 4473 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?” Card checked the box, indicating yes, according to 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 such as a silencer.
The first is whether a court or other lawful authority has determined one to be “a mental defective.” Among 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 Card signed the document before declining to give him the silencer. Card, in response, was “very cordial, very polite,” 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,’” LaChapelle added. “Then he left the store and never came back.”
In September, Sheriff Joel Merry of Sagadahoc County sent an alert to all law enforcement agencies in Maine after learning that Card had made threats against the military base he was assigned to, the sheriff said in an interview Saturday. It remains unclear whether other police agencies saw the alert.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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