By Robert Mann
Gov. Bobby Jindal said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that if Lafayette theater shooter John Russell Houser had been involuntarily committed in Louisiana, that information would have been “automatically reported” to the national background check system and he would not have allowed to purchase a gun.
Jindal’s statement is not true. Louisiana law does not require private gun sellers (including those selling firearms at gun shows) to perform a background check before selling a handgun.
In his interview, Jindal told host John Dickerson:
Here in Louisiana, we actually passed tougher laws a couple of years ago, so that, for example, if Houser had been involuntarily committed here in Louisiana, that information would automatically — we would have reported that to the national background check system. He shouldn’t, he wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun; he wouldn’t have been able to go into that pawnshop and buy that gun, as he did in another state. Look, every time this happens, it seems like the person has a history of mental illness. We need to make sure the systems we have in place actually work.
Like I said, in Louisiana, we toughened our laws a couple of years ago. If he had been involuntarily committed here, if he had tried to buy that gun here, he wouldn’t have been allowed to do that.
Jindal is correct that Louisiana did pass such a law, House Bill 717, in 2013. The problem is that this law contains a massive loophole — the private-gun-sale exemption. The law certainly makes it a crime for someone like Houser to own the gun. But it would not have stopped him from buying a weapon at a gun show or from another private seller because there is no background check required in such cases.
Jindal is also wrong about gun sales being automatically reported to the federal gun database. Private gun sales are not covered by this law.
Here’s what the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says about Louisiana law on gun sales and background checks:
Federal law requires federally licensed firearms dealers (but not private sellers) [emphasis added] to initiate a background check on the purchaser prior to sale of a firearm. Federal law provides states with the option of serving as a state “point of contact” and conducting their own background checks using state, as well as federal, records and databases, or having the checks performed by the FBI using only the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database. (Note that state files are not always included in the federal database.)
Louisiana does not require private sellers (sellers who are not licensed dealers) to initiate a background check when transferring a firearm. [Emphasis added]
Until Louisiana or the federal government requires background checks for all gun sales, anyone like Houser can easily bypass the background check in Louisiana by purchasing a pistol at a gun show or from any other private seller.