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Handgun Background Check System Has Loopholes

System Only as Good as Submitted Information

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The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, established by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, works if the individual states submit all of the data into the system. Otherwise, people considered too dangerous to own handguns can buy them with few problems.

In the aftermath of the April 16, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. History, it was discovered that Cho Seung-Hui had been determined to be mentally ill and a danger to himself and others. In spite of that court ruling and an order to undergo a psychological evaluation, Cho was able to purchase the handguns he used to shoot 32 people and himself from a licensed gun dealer.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is designed to stop someone like Cho from purchasing handguns. NICS interfaces with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Interstate Identification Index (III) to determination a person's eligibility to possess firearms or explosives in accordance with the federal law.

Who Is Ineligible to Buy Handguns

When a licensed federal handgun dealer runs a background check on a potential handgun buyer, the NICS system returns information on individuals who:

  • Dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.

  • Are unlawful users of or addicted to a controlled substance.

  • Have been adjudicated as a mental defective or been committed to a mental institution.

  • Are illegal or unlawful aliens.

  • Have renounced their U.S. citizenship.

Additionally, the NICS checks criminal history records to identify convicted felons and those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes. The system also checks NCIC files for wanted persons, protection orders, and deported felons.

'Denied Persons File'

According to the FBI, states must provide to the NICS Index information on people declared mentally ill "including supporting documentation to prove an individual was adjudicated as a mental defective or involuntarily committed for treatment" to be included in the system's "Mental Defective File."

Some states and jurisdictions have privacy laws that prohibit the release or sharing of mental health information. In those cases, "states can provide information for inclusion in the Denied Persons File of NICS with no specifics on the mental health issue," which would go into the NICS index, the FBI says.

Only 22 States Participate

As of April 2007, only 22 states submit mental health information for the NICS database. Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

Yes, Virginia is one of the participating states. The Commonwealth of Virginia has entered over 80,000 mental health records into the NICS index, along with over 104,000 into the Denied Persons File, as of April 2007.

Virginia Leads in Reporting

According to the FBI, Virginia is the leading state in reporting mental defective entries for the NICS index.

Yet a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student with a history of aberrant behavior and mental health issues was able to walk into a gun dealer and easily purchase two automatic handguns and slaughter 32 of his fellow students and teachers.

If someone has made their mind up to commit such a heinous act, all the gun-control laws in the world will not stop them.

Source: FBI Press Release

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