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KARE 11 Investigates: Closing a loophole that allows mentally incompetent defendants to buy guns

Reformers plan to close a legal gap KARE 11 exposed that allowed the accused Buffalo Allina clinic mass shooter to legally buy a gun despite prior violent threats.

ST PAUL, Minn — One year after the deadly mass shooting at a Buffalo medical clinic, a lawmaker representing the area wants to close a legal loophole that allowed the alleged shooter to legally buy the gun he’s accused of using in the attack.

Last year, a KARE 11 investigation revealed how a loophole in Minnesota law allowed Gregory Ulrich to purchase a gun – despite his history of mental illness and a prior criminal charge involving threats to shoot up the same clinic.

Before the tragic morning of Feb. 9, 2021Ulrich was charged with violating a harassment restraining order – a misdemeanor – in connection to those threats. He entered a guilty plea. However, before sentencing a judge ordered a mental health exam. A psychologist diagnosed him as mentally ill and incompetent to stand trial.

State court rules dictate that charges must be dropped for defendants found incompetent to stand trial for misdemeanors. Had that happened in Ulrich’s case, he would have fallen under a part of state law that bans mentally incompetent defendants from possessing a firearm.

But only judges can make that official finding of incompetency.

In Ulrich’s case, however, a city prosecutor voluntarily dropped the charge rather than requesting a judge’s finding.

As a result, there was nothing on his official record to prevent Ulrich from legally buying a gun.

Credit: Trailblazer Transit
Gregory Ulrich seen exiting a bus carrying a hidden handgun he says he bought legally at Fleet Farm.

In a telephone interview from jail, Ulrich described how he was able to purchase his gun. “I went to Fleet Farm and just bought it,” he told KARE 11 Investigative reporter A. J. Lagoe.

“Nothing came up, nothing flagged when you tried to buy it?” Lagoe asked.

“Of course not. I had no history,” Ulrich replied.

“That is the gap I am trying to close in this piece of legislation,” said Rep. Marion O’Neill, whose district includes the Buffalo Clinic. “This is a gap in the law that allowed Ulrich to purchase a gun and murder somebody in my district and maim four other people.”

Credit: KARE 11
Rep. Marion O'Neill says her granddaughter was scheduled to go to the clinic the day of the shooting.

The mass shooting came close to impacting O'Neill's own family. “My granddaughter was supposed to be in the clinic later that day," she said.

If passed, O’Neill’s legislation would not allow prosecutors to drop charges when defendants are diagnosed as incompetent in such cases. Instead, it would require judges to make incompetency findings.

An official judicial finding would automatically appear on a background check – and prohibit incompetent defendants like Ulrich from legally buying or possessing firearms.

A KARE 11 series last year documented how Ulrich is one of thousands of gap cases in Minnesota in which defendants who were incompetent to stand trial were released into the community without appropriate supervision or treatment.

Many of those releases led to tragic consequences, including brutal assaults, rapes, and murders.

Credit: KARE 11
Minnesota lawmakers are considering reforms to close loopholes exposed by KARE 11's investigation.

Legislators are already working on other bills that would address additional systemic failings exposed by KARE 11.

Ulrich is accused of shooting five people – killing one. That victim, 37-year-old nursing assistant Lyndsay Overbay, was a wife and mother of two young children.

Ulrich faces multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. He had entered not guilty pleas and is scheduled to go on trial in May.

RELATED: Jury trial set for accused Allina Clinic shooter Gregory Ulrich

RELATED: Mentally ill suspects charged with crimes go untreated; the public goes unprotected

RELATED:  Watch KARE 11’s complete investigation “The GAP: Failure to Treat, Failure to Protect”

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