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Mentally ill man bought gun legally

Assistant City Editor
Thursday, September 13, 2007

The mentally ill man who was shot and killed by police after he shot and wounded a Flagstaff detective bought three guns legally two years prior to his death.

Not only did he pass a required background check on the first gun he bought, he was also able to obtain a concealed weapons permit from the state.

He was able to buy the guns because of a "loophole" in the system regarding mental illness, says the gun store owner who sold Mark E. Steiger the handguns.

The gun Steiger used to shoot the detective is a high-velocity, vest-penetrating weapon dubbed by some a "cop killer."

But Steiger did not have the high-velocity ammunition, according to the store owner.

Steiger, 38, was shot by police Monday afternoon in a wooded area near the west side Coconino Estates neighborhood. Prior to police opening fire, he had shot several times at officers and wounded Detective Todd Bishop, who had attempted to subdue him alive with a Taser.

The steps leading up to Steiger's death began Saturday, when his family called police wanting him to get help for his mental illness. Responding officers encountered Steiger on his porch armed with a gun. Steiger fled from police and hid out until Sunday, when he opened fire on an unoccupied police car in his neighborhood. A multi-agency search ensued.


Steiger, although suffering a mental illness that required medication, bought three handguns at Ruff's Sporting Goods in Flagstaff in 2005.

The first purchase was April 25, said Herb Bridgman, co-owner of Ruff's. He purchased a weapon that was the same caliber used to wound Bishop -- an FN 57.

Going through his FBI background check, Steiger's purchase was placed on "delayed," Bridgman said. A delay means an FBI examiner makes a more thorough assessment of Steiger's background. After three days, if the store does not hear back from the examiner, the sale is allowed to proceed, according to the law. Steiger received his handgun on April 29, 2005

According to court records, Steiger's criminal history at the time included two misdemeanor convictions in 2000, which does not prevent a person in Arizona from owning a gun.

One of his convictions was for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

Steiger's second purchase, a 9 mm handgun, came a month later on May 28, Bridgman said. He did not have to go through a background check because he had received a permit from the state to carry a concealed weapon.

To receive a concealed weapons permit in 2005, applicants had to undergo 16 hours of instruction, submit a set of fingerprints for a background check and pass a written exam.

On Aug. 4, Steiger purchased a third gun -- another FN 57. No background check was required because he had the concealed weapons permit.


One of the questions on the U.S. Department of Justice document used to track firearms transactions states: "Have you ever been adjudicated as mentally defective (which includes having been adjudicated incompetent to manager your own affairs) or have you ever been committed to a mental institution?

Bridgman explained that unless a court has determined a person mentally defective, even if mentally ill and receiving medication, that information will not show up in a background check.

Information about a doctor treating a person for a mental illness and prescribing medication will not show up in a background check, and is actually protected medical information by law.

That's a loophole, Bridgman said, that means gun store owners cannot legally prevent a person with a serious mental illness from purchasing a gun.

Additionally, even if a person has been adjudicated as mentally defective, courts often have substantial lag time in notifying federal authorities -- which is the case with the young man who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in April, he added.


The weapon Steiger used to wound Bishop was originally intended to be used by law enforcement and military to fire small bullets at high velocity to penetrate bulletproof vests.

The weapon has a stigma around it. Anti-gun groups have tried to get the FN 57 banned, calling the weapon a "cop killer" because of the vest-penetrating capability.

A civilian version is available, although the vest-penetrating ammunition is not.

"He did not have that ammunition," Bridgman said.

Even his store is not allowed to purchase the vest-penetrating ammunition, he added.

Bridgman went on to say that other weapons on the market have much more power and similar velocity of bullets.

Those who buy FN 57 pistols typically do so to target practice and hunt "varmints," or animals deemed to be a nuisance by humans.

http://www.azdailysun.com/articles/2007/09/13/news/20070913_front page_11.txt
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