Nearly three months before Robert R. Card II fatally shot 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, a gun store refused to let him complete the purchase of a firearm silencer after he disclosed on a form that he had mental health issues, the owner said of the store in an interview on Sunday.
On Aug. 5, Mr. Card, 40, went to pick up a silencer from Coastal Defense Firearms in neighboring Auburn, said Rick LaChapelle, the owner of the gun store. Mr. LaChapelle said Mr. Card bought the silencer — a device that silences gunshots, also known as a suppressor — from another store and that store sent it to Coastal Defense Firearms for pickup.
The attempted purchase was one of the first indications that Mr Card had admitted he had mental health problems. ABC News first reported the attempted purchase.
Questions about Mr. Card’s mental health and his access to firearms were key issues in the investigation into the mass shooting in which Mr. Card killed 18 people and wounded 13 others at a bowling alley and bar.
During a recent visit to a National Guard training facility outside Peekskill, New York, Mr. Card, an Army reservist, had a confrontation with officials and was later evaluated in a psychiatric facility, according to a senior law enforcement official. But Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael J. Soschuk, said Saturday that there was no information to suggest that Mr. Card had ever been forcibly isolated for mental health treatment. Mr. Sauschuck did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When Mr. Card tried to retrieve the gun’s silencer, he admitted he had mental health problems on a Form 4473, Mr. Lachapelle said. Form 4473 is a federal document that must be filled out and signed to retrieve guns and firearms such as a silencer, and is used to determine if someone can complete the purchase.
It is unclear whether he has previously indicated any mental health issues on other forms related to his gun purchases. Officials said Mr. Card had purchased his guns legally. This means that if he bought them from a licensed dealer, he passed checks that included determining if he was mentally fit to own a firearm.
In a statement, the FBI said there was no information about Mr. Card in the background check system that would prevent him from legally purchasing a gun.
On the 4473 form Mr. Card completed in August, one of the questions was: “Have you ever been convicted of being mentally defective OR have you ever been in a mental institution? According to Mr. Lachapelle, who is also a Lewiston city councilman, Mr. Card checked the box by indicating yes.
Under federal law, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are two criteria that prohibit people with mental health problems from buying or possessing guns and firearm equipment such as silencers.
The first is whether a court or other legal authority has determined someone to be “mentally defective.” Among these determining factors is whether the person poses a danger to themselves or others as a result of mental health problems.
The second is whether a person has been “mentally institutionalized,” meaning that at some point that person was involuntarily committed by a court or other authority because of mental illness or drug use. People who voluntarily go to a mental institution for treatment do not fall under the definition.
Staff at the gun shop waited until Mr Card signed the document before refusing to give him the silencer. Mr. Card’s response was “very cordial, very polite,” Mr. Lachapelle said.
“He says, ‘No problem. Okay, let me get my lawyer to look at it and I’ll just come back and get it later,” added Mr Lachapelle. “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 Mr. Card had made threats against the military base where he was assigned, the sheriff said in an interview Saturday. It remains unclear whether other police agencies saw the alert.
Serge F. Kovaleschi and Nicholas Bogle-Burroughs contributed reporting.