Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) on Monday advocated universal background checks to stop mass shootings like the ones in Parkland and Orlando, even though the Orlando killer and Parkland suspect both passed background checks.
Appearing on CNN to discuss a shooting in Jacksonville, Nelson said Congress should mandate "comprehensive universal background checks" to keep mentally ill people from acquiring guns. However, both Omar Mateen, who attacked Pulse nightclub in 2016, and Nikolas Cruz, who is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder after authorities say he attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, had passed background checks because they did not have a record of mental illness or criminal record.
"At the very least, just common sense would tell you that we ought to have a law that is a comprehensive universal background check in the acquisition or purchase of a gun," Nelson said, referring to a gun-control measure that require private sales to be subject to a background check.
"That would have caught Omar Mateen, the killer in the Pulse nightclub," he said, even though Mateen actually passed a background check to buy his guns. "A comprehensive background check may have caught some of the mental health problems of the killer in the high school in Parkland because he [Cruz] had not been adjudicated mentally incompetent, that did not come up on the comprehensive background check."
Universal background checks do not entail mental examinations; they merely check the background of the individual. Neither Cruz nor Mateen had been previously adjudicated as mentally ill and were therefore able to pass background checks.
Nevertheless, Nelson said he was "hopeful" Congress would "come to their senses" and pass a comprehensive background check law.
Mateen had been on a terror watch-list but was taken off before he bought his guns. Cruz had a history of outbursts at home but none of it had made it onto his record, allowing him to pass a background check.
In response to the Parkland shooting, Florida legislators passed into law the "The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act." One provision of the law "allows a court to prohibit a violent or mentally ill individual from purchasing or possessing a firearm or any other weapon." Without such a law in place, Cruz’s known mental instability did not stop him from passing a background check as long as it did not make it into his record.
Gov. Rick Scott (R.) signed the law in March. He is now running for Nelson's Senate seat.
This is not the only issue on which Nelson has struggled to maintain accuracy recently. The Department of Homeland Security and Florida election officials publicly contradicted his claim that Russian hackers had penetrated the state's election systems, leading fact-checkers to reprimand Nelson.