Building on Tom’s latest strip (which perfectly satirizes up every gun control “debate” that I’ve seen in the past week), it’s important to look beyond the conservative talking point that firearm regulations “don’t work” and ask why gun laws failed to prevent the tragedy at Virginia Tech. In the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the murder of 33 people was aided by – cue the passive voice – “legal loopholes” :
When a judge deemed Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho a danger to himself due to mental illness in 2005, that ruling should have disqualified him from buying a handgun under federal law.
And his slaughter of 32 people last week has raised questions about the efficacy of instant background checks for firearms purchases by the mentally ill.
Under federal law, anyone who has been judged to be a danger to himself or others because of mental illness, as Cho was, should be prohibited from buying a gun.
His status should have been noted in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a database of people disqualified from gun purchases.
But, in Cho’s case, his mental status never went in the system.
That’s because the federal government relied on Virginia to provide the information, and Virginia law disqualifies a person from buying firearms only if they have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital.
Cho was ordered to undergo outpatient treatment, but he was never committed. His appearance before the judge and his evaluation at a mental health facility did not show up when he bought the guns.
To view this disturbing news through the eyes of a second amendment zealot, Cho just slipped through the system. Whoops! There’s no way that anyone could have predicted this particular scenario. Since our best efforts to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people aren’t working, then the only logical answer is to give guns to everybody so they can protect themselves from the psychopaths who are “going to get guns anyways”.
The frustrating thing about all of this is that all of these “loopholes” aren’t accidents. They’re inserted into our laws on purpose as the result of the arduous compromises that go into every piece of gun legislation to appease the NRA. You can bet that the language in Virginia’s gun laws to prohibit gun purchases to people “only if they have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital” was carefully worded and written in such a way that the law would apply to as few people as possible. Cho was able to buy firearms because at some point in the drafting of Virginia’s gun legislation, some gun aficionado writing the ban on selling weapons to the mentally ill decided to make a distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary” commitment to a mental hospital. And what we saw last week was the direct result of that decision.