Authorities’ abilities to identify potentially dangerous mentally ill people are crippled nationwide by the same kinds of conflicts in privacy laws that prevented Virginia officials from being able to intervene before Seung Hui Cho went on his rampage at Virginia Tech, says a federal study commissioned after the Blacksburg shootings and reported by the Washington Post. Because school administrators, doctors, and police rarely share information about students and others who have mental illnesses, troubled people don’t get the counseling they need, and authorities often are unable to prevent them from buying handguns, the report says.
The report came as the House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at making it more difficult for people with mental health problems, such as Cho, to buy firearms. Lawmakers said the measure, the first major gun-control legislation since 1994, would require states to report their list of mentally ill people barred from buying firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Said Michael Fitzpatrick of the National Alliance on Mental Illness: “We don’t need any more commissions or task forces. We know what to do. The president’s task force report is a disappointment. It repeats much of what we have known for years. It talks about encouraging people to get help when they need it — when the real problem is that help often is not available.”