- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday closed a legal loophole that allowed a mentally ill Virginia Tech student to buy the guns he used to kill 32 classmates and faculty.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, signed an executive order requiring anybody ordered by a court to get mental health treatment be added to a state police database of people barred from buying guns.

A court in 2005 ordered outpatient counseling for the student, Seung-hui Cho, after he was judged to be mentally ill and a danger to himself. But because he was not committed to a mental hospital, Cho was never entered into the database that licensed gun dealers use to do instant background checks before any sale. People judged as mentally ill cannot legally buy guns.

Mr. Kaine’s executive order, the first change in state policy resulting from the April 16 shootings, eliminates the distinction between inpatient and outpatient mental health care as long as it is ordered by a court.

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.

After the report is added to the state police’s database, it becomes part of a federal database that gun dealers use nationwide.

“The key criteria that should trigger the report is the finding of danger — if somebody had been determined mentally ill, and they are determined to be a danger to themselves or others to such a degree that they are ordered to receive involuntary treatment,” Mr. Kaine said at a press conference with Attorney General Bob McDonnell. “Whether that treatment is to be provided in an inpatient or outpatient facility is of no moment.”

The executive order does not apply to people who voluntarily seek mental health care.

Cho, 23, a Tech senior who killed himself as police stormed a classroom building, bought his guns legally at gun shops.

Had Mr. 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 on a form that he was required to complete before buying the guns.

“His lie on the form would have been caught,” Mr. Kaine said.

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

Legislation to subject firearms sales at gun shows to instant background checks perennially fails in the state General Assembly.

Mr. Kaine said last week that he expects new emphasis on the legislation this year and that he would support it, as he has in the past.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican expected to run for governor in 2009, would not say yesterday whether he would support such a measure.

How long someone involuntarily ordered to submit to psychiatric care remains on the database depends on when or whether those people are once again judged fit and no danger to themselves or others, Mr. Kaine said.

The bottom half of the form that a court uses to involuntarily order mental health services is later used to remove the person from the database.

Mr. Kaine said the state has a good record of removing names from the database that the state police maintains once a court has judged someone on the list as being well.

“I’ve got to acknowledge that we feel a lesser degree of confidence with respect to the federal database,” Mr. Kaine said. “We can control what goes in and what comes out of the state database. Once things come out of the state database, it is not clear that they are automatically coming out of the federal database. That is something we need to talk about with our congressional delegation.”

Also yesterday, the last person hospitalized with injuries from the shootings was updated from serious to fair condition, said Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital spokesman Eric Earnhart.

Sean McQuade, 21, of Mullica Hill, N.J., was hit with five bullet fragments, family members said. He was among the 25 persons injured during the attack.

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