RENO — A young man who bought a handgun from a Reno police sergeant was adjudicated as mentally ill by a judge and prohibited from purchasing a weapon, but his name was never entered into a background check system because of a coding error, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Tuesday.
Although background checks are not required for private gun sales, a coding error by the Washoe County clerk’s office prevented his name from being entered into state and federal databases. That means the 19-year-old would not have been flagged even if a background check had been conducted.
The clerk’s office is now auditing its records, the newspaper said.
The case is fueling ongoing debate in Nevada over gun control after the Democrat-controlled Legislature passed a bill this year requiring background checks for all gun purchase. Senate Bill 221 was vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who said the measure would erode Nevadans’ Second Amendment rights.
In June 2012, Washoe District Judge Egan Walker ruled that the man has a mental illness and is “incompetent to manage his personal and financial affairs,” according to court records acquired by the newspaper. It is illegal for a person “adjudicated” with a mental illness to have a gun.
Reno police Sgt. Laura Conklin did not ask for a background check when she sold the firearm to the young man on July 2. Those checks are not required for private party sales under state or federal law. The man’s mother, Jill Schaller, learned of the gun purchase and filed a complaint with the Police Department, which is conducting an internal investigation.
Schaller and her husband, Richard, were granted legal guardianship of their son last year after he attempted suicide and was hospitalized.
Washoe District Court Clerk Joey Orduna Hasting said the office made a mistake in its coding system and the case was not sent to the Nevada Department of Public Safety to be included in the background check system. The mistake was discovered Monday when the newspaper asked the court for a list of cases in which a person was “adjudicated” with a mental illness and then added to the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Nevada courts have been required to send this information since 2010.
The young man was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and narcolepsy, according to Dr. Kristin Hestdalen, a Reno psychiatrist who submitted a letter and evaluation with the Schallers’ guardianship request, the newspaper reported.
Hestdalen said the young man is a danger to himself and “lacks an understanding of his physical and medical needs and is unable to make appropriate financial decisions or care for himself.”
Schaller said her son believes the sale was legal because he studied the questions on the website where he found the gun for sale and he passed all the requirements, namely that he was older than 18. But most important, the person selling the gun was a police officer, and in his mind, that confirmed that the sale was legal, Schaller told the newspaper.
“The sale happened fast and was very casual,” Schaller said. “There was no seriousness around the transaction that this was a lethal object. It was like buying a scooter. I would have been thrilled if she had arrested him. I needed Laura Conklin to act like a police officer.”
Conklin’s lawyer, Thomas Viloria, said she did not violate the law because she did not know the man was prohibited from having a gun.
State Sen. Justin Jones, a Las Vegas Democrat who sponsored SB221, said the case exemplifies the need for the records checks.
“As too often happens, another person who shouldn’t have access to firearms was able to easily buy a handgun because of loopholes in our laws for private gun sales,” Jones said.
Jones said there should be an audit for all courts in Nevada because if the Reno court missed cases, others likely did as well.