The gunman who killed seven people and injured more than 20 others in a shooting rampage along a West Texas highway Saturday couldn't pass a firearm background check, but he purchased a gun in a private party sale that didn't require any scrutiny of his history.
Seth Ator, 36, couldn't legally own a gun because of his mental health history, a law enforcement source told BuzzFeed News. He previously failed a background check when he tried to buy a firearm from a gun dealer, but he later obtained an AR-style rifle used Saturday to open fire, apparently at random, on law enforcement officers and dozens of other people.
Ator bought the rifle through a private sale, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. In Texas, as in a number of other states, background checks are not required when one private party sells a gun to another. A 2017 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found 22% of gun owners reported they'd obtained their most recent firearm without a background check.
It's a loophole in the background check system that gun safety activists have called out for years. A bill to make background checks mandatory for all US gun sales has passed the House of Representatives, but hasn't been scheduled for a vote in the Senate — a decision by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that has drawn ire from Democrats.
“This is exhibit A of the deadliness of the background check loophole. This weekend alone, seven Americans are dead after a preventable mass shooting, because the Senate has refused to require background checks on all gun sales,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement. “Americans are tired of excuses: The time for Senate action on background checks is now, and Americans will not be fooled by a weak, ineffective legislative response.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, the California Democrat who introduced the background check bill, also called on McConnell to allow the Senate to take a vote.
"Background checks are the first line of defense," he said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "Any delay to pass commonsense gun violence prevention legislation only increases the chances that more innocent people may suffer from the tragic and needless loss caused by gun violence."
McConnell on Tuesday said he's waiting on a decision from the Trump administration on whether the president would support expanding background checks. But on Sunday, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Trump suggested he didn't think background checks were the answer to preventing mass shootings.
"For the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it," Trump said. "So it's a big problem. It's a mental problem."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said the status quo of mass shooting after mass shooting cannot continue. The governor said he is speaking with legislators, law enforcement, and shooting victims to determine what steps to take in Texas.
A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to questions on whether Abbott supported expanding background checks to private gun sales.
"We must keep guns out of criminals’ hands," Abbott said in a tweet on Monday.
Ator did have a criminal history, but it did not preclude him from owning a gun. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Ator in 2001 was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing and evading arrest.