Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Congress shows little appetite for tightening gun laws


Grappling with the deadliest shooting spree in US history, lawmakers said on Sunday they wanted to eliminate a gap between state and federal laws that can allow someone with a history of mental illness to buy guns.

Members of Congress have shown little political appetite, however, for attempting to expand federal gun control in response to the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Cho Seung-hui, who gunned down 32 people on campus and killed himself last Monday, was evaluated at a psychiatric hospital in late 2005 and deemed by a judge to present "an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness." That should have disqualified him from purchasing a gun under federal law, experts say.

But Virginia court officials insist that because the judge ordered only outpatient treatment and did not commit Cho to a psychiatric hospital -- they were not required to submit the information to be entered in the federal databases for background checks.

Lawmakers pushed on Sunday to eliminate such breakdowns. They called for uniformity between state and federal reporting to make background checks more dependable.

"I think everybody would agree that somebody with a psychological problem should not be allowed to purchase a weapon," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said.

Republican lawmakers appearing on the Sunday news programs agreed.

"There was a definite failure of communication and that ought to be changed with federal legislation," said Senator Arlen Specter.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Carolyn McCarthy announced legislation on Sunday that would require states to upgrade their reporting of mental health records to the federal database. The bill would provide new money to states to help them automate their records, but also apply financial penalties on states that do not comply.

McCarthy, whose husband was fatally shot by a deranged gunman on the Long Island Railroad, is working with Representative John Dingell, a strong gun-rights advocate, to get legislation through Congress.

Meanwhile, Leahy said he would hold hearings on guns in response to the Virginia Tech shootings.

But Democrats, who now control both chambers of Congress, have shown little eagerness to toughen existing laws -- or little confidence such efforts would advance. Such efforts have been unpopular with voters in rural or swing districts in the past.

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