As we reported on Thursday, Democrats in Minnesota have been quick to use this week’s shooting at a health clinic in Buffalo, Minnesota to demand changes to the state’s gun laws, including the passage of a red flag firearms seizure law. There are questions, however, about why the suspect in the shooting was able to possess a firearm, given his repeated contacts with police and what the press originally reported as a finding of mental incompetence after he was charged with violating a restraining order against the clinic back in 2018.
Under federal and state law, a finding of mental incompetence should have disqualified Gregory Ulrich from legally owning or purchasing a firearm. As it turns out, however, it wasn’t a judge who declared Ulrich incompetent to stand trial, but the local prosecutor in Buffalo.
After Ulrich was criminally charged with violating that restraining order, the judge in that case ordered him to surrender any firearms. But that was only a temporary order – and still didn’t prevent him from getting a purchase permit.
At some point during the case, Ulrich applied for such a permit. After he pleaded guilty to the crime, a probation agent became aware of the application and wrote to the court that “it is highly recommended that the defendant not be allowed to have use or possession of any dangerous weapons or firearms as part of his probation,” records show.
But that recommendation was rendered all but moot when less than a week later the judge in the case ordered Ulrich to undergo a psychological evaluation.
Though Ulrich’s evaluation records are not public, in April 2020, Buffalo city prosecutor Scott Baumgartner dismissed the charge, writing Ulrich was found “mentally incompetent to proceed.”
According to Minnesota gun rights activist and Hamline University law professor Joe Olson, that was a fatal mistake. An adjudication of mental defectiveness has to come from a judge, and Baumgartner’s decision to dismiss the case outright rather than letting the judge determine whether Ulrich was fit to stand trial put a halt to the process that would likely have ended with Ulrich disqualified from legally possessing a firearm.
Indeed, a Minnesota court spokesman confirmed that because there was no judicial finding of incompetence entered into the record, there was nothing to give to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Olson said the prosecutor should have continued the case and had the judge decide whether Ulrich was mentally incompetent.
“Had the (attorney) used the court procedure, the Buffalo police could have taken immediate action well before the shootings this week,” Olson said. “The entire system depends on government officials using the tools the law provides.”
Gun control activists are calling this a “textbook case where an extreme risk law could have saved lives,” but is that really the case? Even if Minnesota had a red flag law and it was used against Ulrich, it could have possibly removed his legally-owned gun, but it wouldn’t have actually done anything to him. Remember, Ulrich is accused of not only shooting five people in the clinic, but detonating several pipe bombs in his attack as well. If he had been “red flagged” he still would have been able to acquire the materials he needed to build his bombs, and he would likely have still carried out his attack.
No, the chance to stop Ulrich was missed when the local prosecutor failed to bring the violation of the protection order to trial. Ulrich would have likely been found incompetent to stand trial, which would have stripped him of his right to keep and bear arms. The failure of the prosecutor to use the existing laws already in place is no excuse to put another gun control law on the books, but something tells me we won’t hear gun control activists mention the mistake that allowed Ulrich to keep ahold of his gun. They’d much rather advance the false narrative that the only thing that could have prevented the attack are more restrictions on legal gun owners.
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