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Ryan: 'We Need to Look at Those Gaps' if Mentally Ill Getting Guns

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pauses as he speaks to the media during a news conference Feb. 15, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he’ll be looking to see if there are “gaps” in the system to keep the mentally ill from obtaining guns after Wednesday’s high school massacre in Parkland, Fla.

Federal officials said Nikolas Cruz, 19, purchased the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223 used in the mass shooting in February 2017 at Sunrise Tactical Supply in Coral Springs, Fla. Cruz either had received or was currently in mental health treatment at the time, according to the local mayor, but the gun background check looks for whether someone has been found “mentally defective” by a court. He also didn’t have a disqualifying criminal history.

Ryan told reporters on Capitol Hill today that “mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies,” and “that may be the case here today, based on earlier reporting.”

“We passed legislation on mental health. We want to make sure that if someone’s in the mental health system, that they don’t get a gun if they’re not supposed to get a gun,” he said. “We will find out, as facts come out, whether there was a breakdown in the system or not here today.”

“As you also know, we passed legislation cleaning up the instant check background check system. That bill, with others, is sitting over in the United States Senate. So if there’s someone who’s not supposed to get a gun who’s getting a gun, then we got to figure out why that’s happening and fix that… And one thing we know is that there are early indications for mental illness. I think we probably have to do a better job of trying to make sure that people don’t get — slip through the cracks.”

Asked whether law enforcement should be able to confiscate a weapon from someone who has exhibited signs of mental illness, the Speaker replied, “this is not a time to jump to some conclusion not knowing the full facts — we’ve got a lot more information we need to know.”

“But if someone who is mentally ill is slipping through the cracks and getting a gun — because we have laws on the books. We have a system to prevent people who aren’t supposed to get guns from getting guns,” he said. “And if there are gaps there, then we need to look at those gaps.

Ryan highlighted how the House responded to the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting by passing reforms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System information-sharing. “There was a man who had been convicted in the Air Force of domestic violence. He wasn’t supposed to get a gun, yet the Air Force didn’t give the records to the instant check system and he got a gun. That’s one of the reasons why we passed legislation plugging that loophole, making sure that that was the case,” he said. “So that came from hearings. We had hearings on the gaps in the instant check system, and those hearings led to a conclusion that there were gaps that needed to be fixed, and that led to legislation that has now passed the House.”

If mental health issues are associated with this week’s Florida shooting, he said, “The question is, are those laws where they need to be? Is it being implemented properly? Are they being enforced correctly?”

“Remember, we do have laws on the books designed to prevent people with mental illnesses from getting firearms, designed — people who have criminal backgrounds from getting firearms. The question is, just like the Texas instance, are those laws working the right way? Are there loopholes that need to be plugged? We found some loopholes that needed to be plugged and we passed a bill to plug those loopholes.”