Looking for ways to eliminate gun law loopholes

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Grappling with the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history, lawmakers said Sunday they want to eliminate a gap between state and federal laws that can allow someone with a history of mental illness to buy guns.

Members of Congress have shown little political appetite, however, for attempting to expand federal gun control in response to the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Seung-Hui Cho, who gunned down 32 people on campus and killed himself Monday, 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, experts say.

But Virginia court officials insist 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 pushed Sunday to eliminate such breakdowns. They 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,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Republican lawmakers appearing on the Sunday news programs agreed.

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

Two New York Democrats, Sen. Charles Schumer, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, announced legislation Sunday 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, but also apply financial penalties on states that do not comply.

McCarthy, whose husband was fatally shot by a deranged gunman on the Long Island Railroad, is working with Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and strong gun-rights advocate, to get legislation through Congress.

Meanwhile, Leahy said he would hold hearings on guns in response to the Virginia Tech shootings.

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

Federal law generally requires firearms dealers to conduct background checks on gun buyers, and prohibits sales to convicted felons and some people who have been legally declared to have mental problems. State restrictions vary widely on weapons and waiting periods.

In Virginia, where Cho bought his guns, Attorney General Bob McDonnell said the disconnect between state and federal laws on background checks is something his lawyers are working to fix. He cautioned, though, against any federal response that would infringe upon individual rights.

Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and potential 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,” Gingrich said.

Leahy spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Specter spoke on “Fox News Sunday.” McDonnell spoke on CNN’s “Late Edition.” Gingrich appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”

–BEN FELLER

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

11 Responses to "Looking for ways to eliminate gun law loopholes"

  1. SEAL  April 23, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Why are we still having this stupid argument? Guns and bullets do not kill people – People kill people. When everyone gets that through their heads, we may be able to have constructive discussions and do something to prevent things like this.

  2. Ardie  April 24, 2007 at 12:10 am

    First idea: People kill, not IEDs. Let’s go after the Iraqis who makes these IEDs. Don’t try to ban IEDs in other words.

    Second idea: People kill, not missiles with nukes. Let’s work on creating a new mind-set of peace in Iran and Israel. There is no need to ban nukes. In fact, if every country had nukes they would be safer.

    Third idea: It is not the WMD of terrorists that kill, it is the terrorist. Stop trying to ban WMD. Just put the terrorists in jail.

    Fourth idea: In our predominately African-American neighborhoods we should arm all the citizens. Crime would drop according to NRA if every African-American were given a weapon of choice with a decent amount of ammo.

  3. Paolo  April 23, 2007 at 8:11 am

    At Virginia Tech, perfect gun control existed: all sane, law-abiding, level-headed students were disarmed. The one unbalanced lunatic, of course, disregarded the rules and armed himself. Why is it so hard for gun control advocates to understand that disarming the 99.9 percent of people who are decent and law-abiding, enables the homicidal 0.1 percent to take full advantage of them?

    I’ve read that schools in Israel are no longer targets of terrorists. Isn’t that remarkable? Palestinian terrorists will strike markets and pizza joints in Israel, but not schools. Why?

    Because schools in Israel now have armories, complete with a fine assortment of military-style weapons! And the teachers are all trained on how to use them.

    History teaches us, over and over again, that both individual criminals and criminal governments are loathe to attack a victim who is capable of putting up a defense. Hitler never attacked little Switzerland, even though I’m sure he could have eventually defeated the Swiss, at great cost. Why would the attack have been so costly? Because all adult Swiss males are members of the militia, and keep fully automatic weapons in their homes.

    The Swiss also have one of the lowest violent crime rates in the world. It just might be that would-be violent criminals in Switzerland think twice before doing a home-invasion where the intended victim has automatic weapons.

    We need to follow the example of the Israelis and the Swiss. A better name for Gun Control is Victim Disarmament.

  4. Wayne K Dolik  April 23, 2007 at 11:26 am

    Good point Paolo. Very well put.

  5. Doncaster  April 23, 2007 at 11:48 am

    People always talk of effects, who’s gonna talk of the causes. When society decide to skirt its problems, those problems always turn out as recurring decimals for them. It¡s a cowardly way to deal with this kind of situation.

  6. Janten  April 23, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    “… the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history …”

    This phrase and other similar ones are being used in articles and blogs and on the air waves almost everywhere these days, but there are people, a whole culture, a whole nation, at least what’s left of it, who take offense to the lack of historical awareness such comments reveal. Here is a very clear statement of their perspective:

    A Native Perspective on Virginia Tech Headlines‘ By Kat Teraji

    http://www.gilroydispatch.com/news/contentview.asp?c=212045

  7. geyser  April 23, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Arm our Schools, are you crazy? We are not the same as Israel. We do not expect to be attacked as they do. Their Teachers have probably been in the Army, as it is mandatory to serve at least Two years. They have been trained to use weapons, our Teaching staff is not required to learn how to handle weapons and most would not want to. Let us lower the amount of guns, not add to the problem.

    Taking One Day at a Time

  8. geyser  April 23, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    It is nice that our Congressmen and Senators agree to try and close the Loop Holes.
    Gingrich’s statement is irrelevent as he is irrelevent. Sure, let’s add more guns to the mix and end up with Fast Draw competition. Or, Pick straws everyday to see who gets the nod, stopping the crazy for the day.
    Has the NRA added their two cents to this debate, will they try and stop it and anything else that is brought up?

    Taking One Day at a Time

  9. Ardie  April 23, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Either Kate Smith or Ken Kesey said: “Guns don’t kill people. Bullets kill people.” This is good common sense. If gun owners need bullets for target practice, etc., it should be legal for them to buy reloading equipment, and load their own bullets. What should be restricted is the sale of readymade bullets to anyone except law enforcement and the military.

  10. jazurell  April 23, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    We really shouldn’t sell bullets to anyone but the military and police….right. Like criminals aren’t going to reload their bullets? And we really shouldn’t sell gasoline to anyone but military and police and mass transit operators.
    I’ll give up my Second Amendment rights just as soon as you give up your First Amendment rights. How about everyone is allowed to post and have free speech, except you? You want to take away something that I have not misused, I’ll do the same for you.
    Why is it that people always want to take away the tool and not go after the real problem….the evil, deranged criminal element?

  11. Paolo  April 23, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Geyser says Israelis are qualified to have armories in their schools, but Americans aren’t, because Israelis have more military training, and they expect to be attacked.

    Does Geyser mean to say we don’t expect to be attacked? After VT and Columbine?

    If only one out of ten American teachers wants to be trained in the use of weapons, fine. That’s more than enough. The other ninety percent who don’t understand that sometimes to you have to use force in self-defense, don’t have to be trained if they don’t want to.

    Incidentally, as recently as the 1960′s, it was not unusual for high school students in New York City to carry rifles, on the subway, to school, where they took part in after-school target-shooting competitions. I don’t know of a single case of these guns being used to commit crimes.

    Regarding bullet control, Ardie says ready made bullets should only be sold to law enforcement and the military. Apparently, these classes of people are somehow endowed with a sense of virtue and morality not possessed by the rest of us. I guess once you get a job with the government, you are somehow miraculously transformed into an upstanding, virtuous human being.

    I think Waco, Ruby Ridge, Iraq, the Nazis, and the communists just might give a thoughtful person a pause in considering this premise that government operatives are more virtuous than the rest of us.

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