CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mingo County Prosecuting Attorney C. Michael Sparks said investigators are looking into how the man who allegedly killed the county sheriff last week was able to buy a gun despite being legally prohibited from owning one.
Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, is accused of fatally shooting Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum as the sheriff ate lunch in his car last week. Maynard allegedly used a .40 caliber Glock handgun in the shooting.
Sparks confirmed Wednesday that the Delbarton man bought the gun at a local gun store. The prosecutor previously had said that Maynard is prohibited by law from owning a gun.
Sparks would not say what disqualified Maynard from buying a gun, but Melvin Maynard, Tennis Maynard's father, has said his son has mental problems and had been institutionalized in the past. A stay in a mental institution generally prohibits someone from owning a gun under state and federal laws.
Every time someone buys a gun from a licensed gun dealer, they are required to fill out Federal Form 4473, which asks them a list of questions. Questions include whether they have a criminal history, are the subject of a domestic-violence petition, or have ever been judged mentally incompetent or been committed to a mental institution.
Gun dealers are then required to contact the FBI call center in Clarksburg and conduct a background check on the purchaser. Criminal histories and a history of mental-health problems are supposed to be reported to the FBI. Even if the buyer lied on the form, the background check is supposed to catch if the buyer has mental-health problems.
"There was a breakdown in the system somewhere," Sparks said.
However, he said he doesn't think the gun dealer is responsible for the problem. "That's not where the system broke down," Sparks said.
According to the FBI, more than 1 million people have been denied a gun purchase through the mandatory background-check system since Nov. 30, 1998. The majority -- about 590,000 --were denied for having been convicted of a crime. About 103,000 more were denied for being convicted of domestic violence and an additional 43,000 were turned down because they had a restraining order against them or a domestic-violence petition filed against them.
However, denials because of mental-health issues are spotty. Since 1998, fewer than 11,000 people have been denied a gun purchase for a history of mental problems, FBI records show.
A 2011 study by the lobbying group Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that only 28 states have laws either requiring or permitting state officials to submit mental-health information to the FBI for federal background checks. West Virginia is among those states, although the state's record of mental-health reports submitted per 100,000 residents -- 305.1 -- falls below the national average of 379.3.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns has been pushing for stricter federal gun-control laws.
States that don't require sharing mental-health information might or might not report that information to the FBI. Data collected by Mayors Against Illegal Guns show wide variations in the number of people with mental-health problems who were reported to the federal background-check system.
California topped the list in the 2011 study, with almost 280,000 mental-health records shared. However, several states, among them Alaska, Delaware, Idaho and Rhode Island, submitted no mental-health records for the background-check system.
Since 2009, West Virginia has reported more than 10,000 people to the FBI who should not be allowed to have guns because of mental-health issues, according to Linda Richmond Artimez, director of mental-hygiene services for the West Virginia Supreme Court.
Officials with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms started asking states to report mental-health information for background checks in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Donna Sellers, a spokeswoman for the ATF, said the agency strongly encourages states to report those with a history of mental problems, and reminds gun dealers that mental-health issues might disqualify a buyer from purchasing a gun.
Reach Rusty Marks at email@example.com or 304-348-1215.