In the course of asking how Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis was able to obtain a shotgun legally, The Atlantic's Philip Bump writes:
Even the NRA agrees that people with mental health problems should not be able to get access to firearms.No, that's exactly right.
The NRA accepts the provision in federal law that bars ownership or purchase of a firearm by someone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution."
But that's not the same as believing that people with "mental health problems" should be denied firearms.
As a page on the NRA Institute for Legislative Action site notes,
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has issued regulations that define an "adjudication" as a "determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person is, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease: (1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or (2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs." This includes a finding of insanity or incompetency in a criminal case....This sounds reasonable, except it means that a person like Aaron Alexis, who said last month "that a person he had argued with at an airport in Virginia 'has sent three people to follow him and keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations into his body' via a microwave machine, according to a Newport, R.I., police report," would not fall into the NRA's too-unstable-for-a-gun category because wasn't deemed mentally unfit "by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority" -- after all, the cops didn't have him involuntarily committed.
"Committed to a mental institution" is defined as a "formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, or other lawful authority." ...
A person cannot be federally disqualified from owning a gun based simply on a psychiatrist's diagnosis, a doctor's referral, or the opinion of a law enforcement officer, let alone based on getting a drug prescription or seeking mental health treatment. Doing so would actually discourage troubled people from getting the help they need.
And it doesn't matter that Alexis reportedly has "been treated since August by the Veterans Administration for his mental problems," including paranoia, because, as the NRA piously informs us, "A person cannot be federally disqualified from owning a gun based simply on ... seeking mental health treatment. Doing so would actually discourage troubled people from getting the help they need."
You see, according to the NRA, we have to err on the side of permitting gun ownership in all but the narrowest possible circumstances, because ... freedom. So of course Aaron Alexis should have been allowed to buy a gun.