Legal Confusion In Cho Gun Purchases Despite Mental Illness


A judge’s ruling on Cho Seung-Hui’s mental health should have barred him from purchasing the handguns he used in the Virginia Tech massacre, say federal regulations cited by the Associated Press. It was unclear whether anybody had an obligation to inform federal authorities about Cho’s mental status because of loopholes in the law that governs background checks. Cho purchased two handguns in February and March, and was subject to federal and state background checks both times. The checks turned up no problems, despite a judge’s ruling in 2005 that Cho “presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.”

“On the face of it, he should have been blocked under federal law,” said Denis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Virginia State Police send information on prohibited buyers to the federal government. They maintain that the sale was legal under state law and would have been barred only if the justice had committed Cho to a psychiatric hospital. “The law is very confused about this,” said Richard Bonnie, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Virginia who heads a state commission on mental-health reform. “The source of the confusion is the relation between federal and state law.”


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