Movie theater shooter had no red flags when buying gun

Published 9:53 am Tuesday, July 28, 2015

CARROLLTON, Ga. — John Russell Houser’s mental problems were well known to many, though perhaps not to the store that sold him the .40-caliber handgun used in a deadly attack on a Louisiana movie theater. A federal background check came back clean, the pawn shop said, with no red flags raised at the time of sale.

Yet Houser’s own family worried he was dangerous in 2008 and sought court protection. His wife was so worried that she removed his guns from their home, her attorney said. A probate judge in Georgia signed an order allowing sheriff’s deputies to detain Houser and bring him to a hospital for a mental evaluation.

But the judge who ordered Houser detained said Monday that she did not — and legally could not — have him involuntarily committed. That may explain why he was able to legally purchase the gun used to kill Jillian Johnson and Mayci Marie Breaux in a theater in Lafayette. He wounded nine others before killing himself.

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Houser’s case underscores concerns raised in the aftermath of other mass shootings involving suspects with mental health issues — and the gaps in the system meant to “red-flag” people ill-suited to own or carry a firearm.

Funeral services for Johnson and Breaux were held Monday. Johnson was remembered as an artist who worked to beautify her neighborhood while Breaux was looking forward to a new job and married life with a longtime boyfriend.