Virginia Governor Closes Law Loophole

Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 7:29 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The governor has closed a loophole in state law that allowed the Virginia Tech gunman to pass a weapons background check despite having mental health issues.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine signed an executive order Monday requiring that anyone ordered by a court to get mental health treatment be added to a state police database of people barred from buying guns.

The order, the first change in state policy resulting from the shootings, eliminates the distinction between inpatient and outpatient mental health care as long as it is ordered by a court.

The Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was judged mentally ill and a danger to himself by a court in 2005. He was ordered to attend outpatient counseling.

But because he was not committed to a mental hospital, he was never entered into the database that licensed gun dealers use to do instant background checks before any sale. People judged as mental defectives can't legally buy guns.

Cho, a 23-year-old Tech senior who killed himself as police stormed a classroom building, legally bought the guns he used to kill 32 Tech students and faculty on April 16.

The executive order does not apply to people who seek mental health care of their own will. After the report is added to Virginia's state police database, it becomes part of a federal database that gun dealers nationwide use.

Virginia already is the leading state in reporting mental health records, with more than 80,000 in the federal database. Twenty-eight states do not supply any records, either because they lack the technical ability or are barred by state privacy laws.

Had Kaine's order been in place a year ago, the background check could have flagged Cho when he tried to buy a weapon from a licensed dealer. Cho did not disclose his mental health problems or the court-ordered outpatient treatment in a form he was required to complete before buying the guns.

``His lie on the form would have been caught,'' Kaine said.

But it would not have prevented Cho from acquiring guns by several other means that require no background check in Virginia, including buy-and-trade publications, individual transactions among gun collectors or hobbyists, and gun shows _ vast firearms bazaars where scores of people sell or swap firearms.

Legislation that would also subject firearms sales at gun shows to instant background checks is introduced annually in Virginia, and just as often it dies without reaching a floor vote in the General Assembly.

Kaine, a Democrat, has said that he expects new support for the legislation this year and that he would support it, as he has in the past.