Prompted by the Virginia Tech shootings, Congress yesterday approved legislation that would help states more quickly and accurately identify potential firearms buyers with mental health problems that disqualify them from gun ownership under federal law, reports the Washington Post. The deaths of 32 people in a shooting rampage by a mentally ill Virginia Tech student spurred Congress to address long-standing gaps in state records reporting that allowed the killer to purchase two guns.
The bill drew bipartisan support, and the backing of both the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Rifle Association. It bill more clearly defines which mental health records must be reported by states and federal agencies to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. States and state courts would receive as much as $375 million each year for five years to streamline and improve the processing of mental health information used to flag people ineligible to own a gun. States that fail to comply could lose federal crime-fighting funds, while states with good reporting records could qualify for financial incentives. In a deal with the gun lobby, the bill provides money to encourage states to allow thousands of people with allegations of mental illness on their records to petition for restoration of their gun-ownership rights.