Gun Laws: Full Of Holes?

April 21, 2007

The New York Times points out today that Virginia Tech mass-killer Seung-Hui Cho should not have been allowed to buy handguns, based on his history of severe mental illness- that in fact it was a violation of federal law.

glockpistol.jpgMr. Cho’s ability to buy two guns despite his history has brought new attention to the adequacy of background checks that scrutinize potential gun buyers. And since federal gun laws depend on states for enforcement, the failure of Virginia to flag Mr. Cho highlights the often incomplete information provided by states to federal authorities.

Virginia state law on mental health disqualifications to firearms purchases, however, is worded slightly differently from the federal statute. So the form that Virginia courts use to notify state police about a mental health disqualification addresses only the state criteria, which list two potential categories that would warrant notification to the state police: someone who was “involuntarily committed” or ruled mentally “incapacitated.”

Thus the disconnect between what Washington legislated and what Virginia enforced, a difference that cost more than 30 lives. Unless, of course, the gunman had gotten his weapons in a street sale or at a gun show, after being turned away by a firearms dealer.

The Syracuse Post Standard reports today that city police had to stand guard around a shooting victim’s funeral Friday, after many 911 calls about shots fired in the area. Police said the man being remembered, Rantwon Smith, was shot to death because he refused to give back money he’d won in a dice game.

The Post also provides a “reminder,” in a separate brief item, that you’ll need to take a gun safety course if you want a pistol permit. It adds the possibly helpful information that if you’d like to go and buy a rifle or a shotgun, you won’t need a permit. The reminder seems to come out of nowhere- or maybe it just proves that guns and shootings, sadly, have been on just about everybody’s mind this week.