Movie attack suspect got guns despite psych issues

AP News
Posted: Nov 21, 2012 8:00 PM
Movie attack suspect got guns despite psych issues

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri man accused of plotting attacks at a movie theater and Walmart store legally bought the guns he allegedly planned to use, despite being forced to undergo a psychiatric exam three years ago after stalking a store clerk he said he planned to kill, authorities said.

Blaec Lammers, 20, was arrested last week after his mother told police she feared he was planning an attack. Authorities say Lammers told investigators he planned to open fire during a showing last weekend of the new "Twilight" film and then inside a nearby Walmart in Bolivar, a town about 130 miles southeast of Kansas City.

Investigators determined he legally purchased two assault rifles, and also had 400 rounds of ammunition. He is charged with first-degree assault, making a terroristic threat and armed criminal action, and remained jailed Wednesday on $500,000 bond.

The case has gun control advocates concerned.

Daniel Vice, a senior attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said Lammers' case reminds him of what happened before the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Student gunman Seung-Hui Cho, who fatally shot 32 people before killing himself, was able to buy two guns even though he had been ruled a danger to himself during a court hearing in 2005.

"We've seen it before," Vice said. "We've been trying to fix this."

The National Rifle Association didn't respond to a phone message seeking comment. Lammers' attorney, DeWayne Franklin Perry, declined to comment about the case.

Lammers' mother said her son had undergone inpatient treatment and has shown signs associated with Asperger's syndrome, borderline personality disorder and other conditions.

"He didn't ask to be born different," Tricia Lammers said at a news conference this week at the National Alliance for Mental Illness in Springfield. "He wanted to be successful and be somebody. Just two weeks ago he asked me — both my kids still call me mommy — he said, 'Mommy, do you think I'm a failure?' I said, 'No, Blaec, I don't.'"

Federal law has banned certain types of mentally ill people from buying guns since 1968, including those who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others, involuntarily committed, or judged not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial.

Lammers was involuntarily committed in 2009, after he brought a knife and rubber mask to a Walmart store and followed around a clerk, according to an arrest report. Lammers, who was 17 at the time, told investigators he was planning to kill the clerk when he heard his name over the public address system and his father hollering at him.

He wasn't charged, but he was involuntarily committed for 96 hours for a mental health examination. In Missouri, hospitals, law enforcement officials and private citizens can request a person be held against his or her will for up to 96 hours if the person appears to be a threat to themselves or others.

But such an involuntary hold doesn't necessarily bar someone from purchasing a firearm, because the federal law requires that a person be "adjudicated as a mental defective," said Trista K. Frederick, a special agent and spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office in Kansas City.

Each state has a system for making a legal determination that a person is mentally defective and submitting those records to a federal database.

Frederick said the ATF looked into Lammers' case but had no information to show he should have been prohibited from having firearms. And the Missouri Department of Mental Health says the state has no central database of orders for 96-hour involuntary mental evaluation commitments.

Mick Covington, executive director of the Missouri State Sheriff's Association, said people don't lose their gun rights in Missouri simply because of such a commitment.

"The fact that somebody is held for 96 hours, if there's nothing else besides that, it's like picking somebody up on a reasonable suspicion arrest and no other charges are filed," Covington said. "It's a big difference between being picked up and looked at, and picked up and having a medical person say this person is incompetent."

Polk County prosecutor Ken Ashlock, who wasn't the local prosecutor in 2009, said he doesn't know what happened to Lammers after his 96-hour evaluation. A longer mental health commitment would have required the type of court preceding that would have barred Lammers from obtaining a gun. But given that Lammers was able to purchase two firearms last week, Ashlock suspects nothing more happened after the initial evaluation.

Polk County Sheriff Steven Bruce said he's worried about how the state handles cases involving the mentally ill.

"If you have mental issues, if there has been enough of a concern from a family member or public or whatever to alert us to a condition that they feel that you have and we then 96-hour you — good, bad or otherwise — I think that needs to be a point of record," Bruce said.

Investigators wrote in a probable cause statement that Lammers bought two assault rifles legally in Bolivar. When they questioned him last Thursday, he said he bought tickets to a Sunday "Twilight" screening in Bolivar and planned to shoot people inside.

Lammers also said he planned to shoot people at random at the Walmart store less than a mile away, so if he ran out of bullets, he could steal more "and keep shooting until police arrived," investigators wrote.

Investigators said Lammers was "off of his medication," but his mother said Tuesday she didn't think that was the case. A judge has ordered Lammers to undergo another mental health exam.

Bruce, the sheriff, said mental health care is "pretty precarious" in Missouri and the help people need isn't always there because "funds are low."

"The biggest problem is people with issues who it takes medication to keep what we would consider a normal balance," he said. "And when they don't take those, I don't know that they necessarily realize how imbalanced they can become."