The ever-astute New York Times has discovered that, in theory, existing federal law should have prevented the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shootings from purchasing a gun.
When you buy a gun, you are required to fill out and sign a form which asks if you have ever been adjudicated legally incompetent, mentally incapacitated, or been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
This sort of thing is exactly like the Post Office asking you to sign a form promising that the package you are mailing does not contain prohibited items or a bomb.
Asking ordinary people to fill out these kinds of forms is a complete waste of time, and the persons the form is intended to block will always simply lie.
And there is no point in singling out Virginia. Local adaptations of the same federal form 4473 are used in every state.
Example: Minnesota version
WASHINGTON, April 20 â€” Under federal law, the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho should have been prohibited from purchasing a gun after a Virginia court declared him to be a danger to himself in late 2005 and sent him for psychiatric treatment, a government official and several legal experts said Friday.
Federal law prohibits anyone who has been â€œadjudicated as a mental defective,â€ as well as those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, from purchasing a gun.
A special justiceâ€™s order in late 2005 that directed Mr. Cho to seek outpatient treatment and declared him to be mentally ill and an imminent danger to himself fits the federal criteria and should have immediately disqualified him, said Richard J. Bonnie, chairman of the Supreme Court of Virginiaâ€™s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform. A spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also said if that if found mentally defective by a court, Mr. Cho should have been denied a gun.
The federal law defines adjudication as a mental defective to include â€œdetermination by a court, board, commission or other lawful authorityâ€ that as a result of mental illness, the person is a â€œdanger to himself or others.â€
Mr. Choâ€™s ability to purchase two guns despite his history of mental illness has cast new attention on Virginiaâ€™s relatively lax gun laws. And since states are supposed to enforce federal gun laws, the sales raise questions about whether Virgina â€” and other states â€” fully comply with the federal restrictions.