Virginia Governor Issues Order to Close Gun-Buying Loophole

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine delivered on last week’s promise to close a significant loophole in the state’s gun-buying process. Kaine today issued an executive order that would require all persons who have been directed to receive involuntary mental-health treatment to be added to the background-check database used by gun retailers.

According to Gov. Kaine, his new order would have prevented Seung Hui Cho from purchasing the guns he used earlier this month in the tragic Virginia Tech shooting rampage. The key element of the order is that it does not distinguish between inpatient and outpatient mental-health care. Before Kaine’s order, only individuals who had been ordered to undergo inpatient care in other words, only people who’d been committed were added to the database.

Said Kaine, “Whether that treatment is to be provided in an inpatient or outpatient facility is of no moment.” Virginia state police, along with the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Services, will now be required to report any person who is ordered to get involuntary mental-health treatment to the state’s criminal-records database. That database feeds into the national database that is used by both gun dealers and federal officials, and any individual who appears in that database is barred from purchasing weapons.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in response to the order, “I was pleased that Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia issued an executive order this morning announcing his actions to strengthen the state’s reporting of appropriate records of court determinations of mental illness to the National Instant Check System. This action is a definite step in the right direction, and we applaud the Governor for his prompt response.

“Virginia has now taken an important step. But we are asking every state to urgently conduct a review and improve their background check records. The incomplete reporting problems that allowed a killer to be armed are by no means limited to the state of Virginia.”

While gun-control advocates are applauding the new measure, many believe that it still falls well short of the mark because it only applies to retail outlets. In fact, the entire background-check system in Virginia only applies to retail outlets, meaning that any individual can still buy a gun from private sellers, from magazines, and at gun shows without having to undergo any background check whatsoever.

For years, the Virginia General Assembly has considered legislation that would require potential weapons buyers at gun shows to be subject to a background check, but state lawmakers have rejected the bill every time. Kaine has promised to sign a bill requiring gun-show background checks should one ever make it to his desk, a possibility that remains unlikely, even in the aftermath of the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech. Fewer than half of the states have any provisions on the book to close the so-called “gun-show loophole” at this point.

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