Bush Signs Bipartisan Gun Legislation

Associated Press
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

President Bush signed legislation yesterday aimed at preventing the severely mentally ill from buying guns, a bill backed by both parties after the bloody Virginia Tech University shooting.

The law authorizes as much as $1.3 billion in grant money for states to improve their ability to track and report individuals who should not qualify to buy a gun legally, including those involuntarily confined by a mental institution. Much of the money, to be spent over five years, would be used to increase state feeds to a national system used to run background checks on gun purchases.

Seung Hui Cho was able to pass a background check and buy two handguns, even though a Virginia court had deemed him mentally defective. In April, he used those guns as he shot and killed 32 people and injured two dozen others at Virginia Tech.

New York Democrats Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy introduced the bill in 2002 after a shooting that year in a church. But the legislation did not gain the momentum it needed until after the April shootings, and families of the victims lobbied to strengthen the law.

"Had it become law earlier, it may well have saved the lives of 32 students who were killed at Virginia Tech by another mentally ill gunman," Schumer said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush strongly supports the law's goals.

"We saw with the terrible shootings at Virginia Tech last year that an incomplete system can have tragic consequences," Fratto said.

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