Questions remain about how Buffalo shooting suspect acquired a gun

As details emerge about the deadly shooting at a health clinic in Buffalo, investigators have yet to answer one key question: how did a man with a documented mental illness get his hands on a gun?

Gregory Ulrich was found mentally incompetent last year. Under state law, anyone found incompetent to stand trial is banned from possessing a firearm.

Investigators say Ulrich walked into the Allina Health Clinic on Tuesday morning, pulled out a Smith and Wesson 9mm handgun and fired 11 shots, wounding four people and killing one.

Ulrich "did not have a permit to carry this handgun in public," investigators wrote in court records. They did not say how Ulrich obtained the gun.

Raymond Zandstra, a former roommate, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that he believed Ulrich had been granted a permit to purchase the firearm.

"All of a sudden, I notice on the kitchen table there’s a thing from the city police department," Zandstra said. "I looked at the little card and it said that he has the right to buy … he was approved to purchase a weapon… signed by the captain."

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At a press conference Thursday morning, Wright County Sheriff Sean Deringer said he could not disclose those details.

"In Minnesota, gun permit data is very private," Deringer said. "And so we have to be very careful about what we release. I can’t even tell you if he made an application."

However, court records showed Ulrich had, in fact, applied for a permit to purchase a firearm in June 2019.

His application was flagged at that time because of a pending criminal charge for violating a restraining order. The restraining order had been granted months earlier after police said Ulrich threatened to shoot up the clinic.

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After Ulrich applied for the gun permit, a county official stated in court records, "it is highly recommended that the defendant not be allowed to have use or possession of any dangerous weapons or firearms as a condition of his probation."

But the criminal charge against Ulrich was dismissed last April after he underwent a psychological evaluation and was found mentally incompetent.

The only way he could legally own a firearm from that point forward is if he asked a judge to restore his rights after determining that he was no longer a danger to himself or the public. It is not known whether Ulrich ever asked a judge to do so because those court records are also private, under state law.

Sheriff Deringer said he and the Wright County attorney asked a judge to issue a court order that would release all relevant records.

"That court order was denied so we cannot comment on that," Deringer said.

He was then asked how anyone who is legally banned from owning a firearm could potentially obtain a permit to purchase one.

"Human error is one," Deringer said. "The other thing is, and I’ve said this before, you have to have a master’s degree to read some of these criminal histories – they’re not always clear."