NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. Bobby Jindal has said that if movie theater shooter John Houser been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility in Louisiana, the information would have been automatically sent to the national background check system and Houser would not have been able to legally buy a gun. Houser had been ordered into a mental health hospital in Georgia in 2008, but still was able to legally buy a gun in Alabama six years later.
Louisiana's law mandates local courts to report when an individual has been ordered to go into a facility for mental health care.
"It certainly is a good first step. Some states don't require this at all. The problem is, what is involuntary?" said Dr. Granville Morse, the deputy coroner for Jefferson Parish.
"Involuntarily committed versus interdicted through the judicial system are two varying terms," Morse said. "So the person that's interdicted through the judicial system is involuntarily committed. The person that has had a PEC - which stands for Physician Emergency Certificate - or CEC, which means Coroner Emergency Certificate placed on them, is also involuntarily committed, but that's not reportable because of patient privacy law."
It is an issue that Pat Milam is passionate about. His 24-year-old son, Matt, committed suicide in 2011.
"He made an improvised bomb, of sorts, and used propane tanks and things like that and ultimately killed himself with an improvised bomb," Milam said.
Milam believes the system failed his son because doctors did not communicate about his illness, and he continued to be released from protective care. He thinks even though his son was mentally ill he would have slipped through the background check cracks if he wanted to buy a gun.
"He tried multiple suicide attempts," Milam said. "I think of what I know of Louisiana law he would still have been allowed to buy a gun after multiple suicide attempts."
Milam believes doctors should be required to report the names of the severely mentally ill. He said until that happens, the tragedies will continue.
"The doctors fall back on HIPPA. They are not required to report anything like that," he said.
Dr. Morse said it is not always a cut-and-dried situation. He gave as an example someone who is severely depressed after losing someone close to them and is involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility.
"So we have that person involuntarily kept against their will," Morse said. "So they come out of therapy and they start the process of moving through their grieving process and they're doing better and they've having a normal life. Well is it right to prevent that person from having the right to purchase a gun? And that's where things certainly get tricky."