Ban on Sale Of Guns to Mentally Ill Is Expanded

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 1, 2007

RICHMOND, April 30 -- Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed an executive order Monday closing a loophole that allowed Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho to purchase firearms even though he had been declared dangerously mentally ill.

Appearing with Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R), Kaine (D) said he instructed state agencies to block gun sales to people involuntarily committed to inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment.

Cho, who killed 32 people and himself, was able to purchase his Glock 19 and Walther .22-caliber guns even though a court had found him to be mentally ill and a threat to himself or others. Under federal law, Cho should have been barred from buying the weapons. But Virginia did not enter his name in the database because he had not been involuntarily committed to a hospital.

Cho had been ordered to seek outpatient treatment.

"We realized this is something we could fix right now, and we didn't want to wait," Kaine said.

The Virginia State Police and state Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services Department are directed "to consider any involuntary treatment order . . . whether inpatient or outpatient" when determining who should be barred from purchasing a gun.

After the state police receive the information from district courts, the agency will submit the names of those ordered for treatment to the FBI's central criminal records database.

Once someone's name is in the database, he is prohibited under state and federal law from purchasing a weapon until a court decides he is no longer a threat to others or himself. Licensed gun dealers nationwide are supposed to check the database before they complete a gun sale.

But Kaine and McDonnell said the order is limited because Kaine can do only so much without legislative approval. Because of that, some mentally ill people will still be able to purchase weapons.

The order is not retroactive -- the names of some people who received court-ordered outpatient treatment in the past might not be entered into the database. Kaine's order also does not affect people who seek treatment voluntarily. The General Assembly would have to change the law to restrict those people's access to firearms.

And even if someone's name appears in the database, there are ways for him to obtain a gun.

In Virginia, some unlicensed dealers or people making one-on-one sales, such as at a gun show, are not required to conduct a background check. The Republican-controlled legislature has repeatedly rejected efforts to close the gun show loophole.

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