Washington Post: Virginia Governor Seeks to Strengthen Policies Restricting Gun Sales

According to the Washington Post, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is considering an executive order that would require information about a prospective gun buyer’s mental health to be added to the background data that weapons sellers use. In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, it appears that lawmakers and politicians on both sides of the aisle are willing to restrict weapons sales to keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Says the Post: “A court had found [Seung Hui] Cho to be dangerously mentally ill, but that information was not available in the computer systems used by the outlets that sold Cho the guns. Kaine’s proposal would ensure that such mental health information be in the database.”

Ironically, Virginia is one of only 22 states that already provide mental-health information to the FBI’s background-check computer system. As has been well-documented, Cho was referred to a mental-health facility in 2005 and deemed “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.” However, Cho was not committed and was allowed to continue his treatment on an outpatient basis. Therefore, since Cho was not involuntarily committed and he was not deemed “mentally incapacitated” by a court of law, the incident was not reported to Virginia State Police, and the information never made it into the FBI database.

Missouri is another of the 22 states that report cases of mental illness to the FBI, and their state law also prohibits mentally incompetent or committed individuals from buying weapons. But as the Post points out, Cho would have likely slipped through the cracks in that state as well. “We only send information if someone’s been found criminally guilty by reason of insanity and committed to an institution,” Capt. Timothy P. McGrail of the Missouri State Highway Patrol told the Post. “Even though the law says we must send more, we don’t. The system is not perfect.”

Even the staunchest gun-rights supporters agree that the mentally ill should not be allowed to buy a gun and that the background-check information system needs to be dramatically improved. Few, if any, Americans believe that Cho had a right to own a gun because of his mental state. As a result, there will be considerable momentum behind any initiatives to strengthen the background-check system and increase the amount of information gun sellers have about prospective customers when they are forced to make a very critical decision.

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