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House passes gun control…sort of

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June 14, 2007

The House of Representatives approved new legislation Wednesday designed to tighten gun ownership, as the government issued a report on the massacre at Virginia Tech University that omits any talk of tougher gun control laws.

House members approved by a voice-vote a bill granting financial incentives to states that report to a data base with information on people who are banned from owning guns, especially criminals and the mentally ill.

The bill is supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the politically powerful US gun lobby, in a rare alliance with majority Democrats in Congress.

To become law the measure must also be approved by the Senate, then signed by the president. If approved, it would become the first new gun control legislation since 1994.

The bill was drafted after the April 16 rampage in which gunman Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed 32 students and faculty on the Virginia Tech campus.

The South Korea-born, US-raised Cho, a 23-year-old English major, bought two handguns even after police and professors recognized that he was mentally disturbed.

The campus shooting “made it clear” that the national instant criminal background check system for potential gun buyers “needs to have better information, better technology, and clearer standards,” said Representative John Dingell, a Democrat that co-authored the bill.

This legislation “will make a better system for public safety, law enforcement, and for lawful and honest gun owners,” he said.

Democrat Charles Schumer, in charge of presenting the measure in the US Senate, said the bill is “our best opportunity to prevent the senseless loss of life at our schools and on our streets by making sure that those who are judged mentally ill do not get guns.”

Also Wednesday the US government issued a report on the Virginia Tech rampage calling for better information-sharing about possibly dangerous students.

President George W. Bush commissioned an investigation of US policy after the campus shooting.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings met with federal, state and local officials to discuss ways of preventing future tragedies.

They reported that “confusion and differing interpretations about state and federal privacy laws and regulations impede appropriate information sharing” and hamper laws designed to keep guns away from potentially dangerous people.

Task force members focused “on increasing the effectiveness of current federal firearms regulation, which is limited by divergent state practice,” the report said.

At the White House, Bush said in a statement that he looks forward “to reviewing their recommendations in more detail,” and said that information sharing must improve to help “keep guns out of the wrong hands and to punish those who break the law.”

Regarding the House bill, Bush said: “I am closely following legislative efforts to strengthen the instant background check system. I look forward to working with Congress on this effort.

Leavitt told reporters that the study found “that in only about 23 states is information actually being reported to the instant gun check registry,” which he described as “a key finding.”

Bush spokesman Tony Snow said that there was no mention in the government report of expanding gun-control laws because officials decided at the outset to exclude such considerations.

“What you’re asking is, why did they not consider gun control?” he asked. “Because that really wasn’t within the purview of what they decided that they were going to look at.”