- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lawmakers yesterday said they want to eliminate a gap between state and federal laws that can allow someone with a history of mental illness to buy guns.

Seung-hui Cho, who gunned down 32 persons at Virginia Tech and killed himself April 16, was evaluated at a psychiatric hospital in late 2005 and deemed by a judge to present “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.” That should have disqualified him from purchasing a gun under federal law, officials say.

Virginia court officials say that because the judge ordered only outpatient treatment — and did not commit Cho to a psychiatric hospital — they were not required to submit the information to be entered in the federal databases for background checks.

Lawmakers yesterday called for uniformity between state and federal reporting to make background checks more dependable.

“I think everybody would agree that somebody with a psychological problem should not be allowed to purchase a weapon,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Republican lawmakers appearing on yesterday’s news programs agreed.

“There was a definite failure of communication, and that ought to be changed with federal legislation,” Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Two New York Democrats, Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, yesterday announced legislation that would require states to upgrade their reporting of mental-health records to the federal database. The bill would provide new money to states to help them automate their records and also apply financial penalties on states that do not comply.

Mrs. McCarthy is working with Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and strong gun rights advocate, to get legislation through Congress.

But Democrats, who now control both chambers of Congress, have shown little eagerness to toughen existing laws. Such efforts have been unpopular with voters in rural or swing districts in the past.

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and potential 2008 Republican presidential candidate, suggested future tragedies could be halted if there were greater access for people to legally carry concealed weapons.

“There have been incidents of this kind of a killer who were stopped because, in fact, people who are law-abiding people, who are rational and people who are responsible, had the ability to stop them,” Mr. Gingrich said on ABC’s “This Week.”

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