By Jessie Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cinncinnati .com
How could Omar Santa Perez, a person who had a history of petty crime – and possible mental health issues –purchase a gun legally in Ohio?
Santa, 29, fatally shot three people and injured two others before he was shot and killed by police officers Thursday morning at Fifth Third Bank’s corporate headquarters on Fountain Square.
Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said Friday that the 9mm semi-automatic pistol was purchased legally on Aug. 2 from a local gun store.
Nothing in Santa’s medical or criminal history prevented him from buying the gun, Issac confirmed.
(Cincinnati police released body camera and security camera video Friday that shows a 29-year-old shooter wreak havoc inside Fifth Third Center Thursday morning. Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said Omar Santa-Perez, 29, walked into the Downtown building dressed in business attire and holding a 9 mm handgun when he opened fire at 9:06 a.m. Courtesy of WCPO.com | 9 On Your Side and YouTube. Posted on Sep 7, 2018.)
Gun used in the incident. The gun was legally purchased at a local gun supply store. pic.twitter.com/MH0AuAlmgo
— Cincinnati Police Department (@CincyPD) September 7, 2018
No evidence has surfaced yet that would suggest Santa should have been barred from owning a gun under federal or state laws.
Police are looking into Santa’s mental health. No specific diagnosis has been reported to date.
Santa sued CNBC and TD Ameritrade in 2017, but a judge dismissed his complaint as “rambling, difficult to decipher and borders on delusional.”
(Omar Santa-Perez, whose lawsuits alleging major media organizations spied on him and broadcast his personal information indicate an ongoing struggle with mental instability, had never committed an act of serious violence before he killed three people Thursday morning. However, background checks across multiple states show a history of unstable behavior and poor social aptitude. Courtesy of WCPO.com | 9 On Your Side and YouTube. Posted on Sep 7, 2018.)
Here’s how Santa could have obtained a gun legally.
First, Ohio and federal law do not ban people with mental health diagnoses from owning a firearm. A ban occurs only if a judge deems a person to have a mental health issue or sends them to a mental health institution.
In those cases, the judge must report the person to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That system is checked every time a person purchases a gun.
Why not report all people with mental health issues?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year.
That’s a lot of people, most of whom would say they can safely wield guns for protection or sport.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Democrats have suggested adding a “red flag” law in Ohio.
I commend the law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel who swiftly responded to the scene and share my deepest sympathies with the innocent victims of this violent attack. 2/
— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) September 6, 2018
The law, which was passed in Florida after the Parkland high school shooting, would allow relatives or police to ask a judge to temporarily remove firearms from a person they fear might be a danger to others or himself.
(Learn More. Red Flag laws make it possible for police to seize guns temporarily from someone showing violent warning signs. They exist in 6 states and are being considered in at least 30 more as a way to prevent more mass shootings. Courtesy of NBC News and YouTube. Posted on Mar 22, 2018.)
That proposal has GOP lawmakers worried about guns being seized unnecessarily.
There’s also no evidence so far that a “red flag” law would have helped in Cincinnati.
The shooter’s aunt, Yudy Martinez Perez, told The Enquirer that she didn’t know why her godson would commit such a devastating crime.
And Santa’s sole interaction with police here appears to be a traffic violation in 2015 for driving with an expired license plate.
In February 2017, President Donald Trump rolled back an Obama administration regulation that required the Social Security Administration to report the names of people unable to manage their finances due to a mental health condition to NICS.
That would have banned some people with mental health issues from obtaining a firearm, but it’s unlikely Santa would have been one of them.
(Learn More. Omar Santa-Perez, who killed three people and wounded two Thursday morning inside the Fifth Third Center, “kept to himself” in the North Bend building where he lived, a neighbor said Thursday night. Courtesy of WCPO.com | 9 On Your Side and YouTube. Posted on Sep 6, 2018.)
Second, not all crimes do disqualify a person from obtaining a gun.
Under Ohio law, a person is banned from purchasing or having a gun if they are indicted or convicted of a felony involving violence, drug use or drug sales.
Under federal law, a person is prohibited from having a gun if he is convicted of most crimes punishable by more than one year in prison.
Those convicted of domestic violence (even a first-time offense) are also banned from obtaining a gun.
Hundreds gather at Fountain Square for a memorial vigil to honor the victims, law enforcement officers, dispatchers, and community for the tragic events that took place yesterday. We are #CincyStrong! Praying for the memory of the victims and their families. pic.twitter.com/iYzMYB8WCz
— Cincinnati Police Department (@CincyPD) September 7, 2018
Santa’s record included multiple low-level offenses: entering or refusing to leave the premises in Greenville, South Carolina; marijuana possession in Palm Beach, Florida; traffic offenses in Lake Worth, Florida; traffic offenses in Deerfield Beach, Florida; disorderly conduct in Coconut Creek, Florida.
He also had a traffic violation in Cincinnati in 2015 for driving with an expired license plate.
Since none of these offenses rose to the level of a felony, they would not have been barred him from obtaining a gun.
Enquirer staffers James Pilcher, Cameron Knight, Mark Curnutte, Terry DeMio, Sarah Brookbank, Max Londberg and Sheila Vilvens contributed reporting.