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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Virginia Tech Review Panel and Guns

The Virginia Tech review panel issued it's findings on August 30th and included in it a recommendation to regulate gun sales at gun shows. This is a revealing addition to the report since Cho did not purchase either of his guns at a gun show and completed the sales at FFL dealers who conducted background checks as required by federal and Virginia law.

There are actually several recommendations related to firearms. They are:


VI-1 All states should report information necessary to conduct federal background checks on gun purchases.

There should be federal incentives to ensure compliance. This should apply to states whose requirements are different from federal law. States should become fully compliant with federal law that disqualifies persons from purchasing or possessing firearms who have been found by a court or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others as a result of mental illness. Reporting of such information should include not just those who are disqualified because they have been found to be dangerous, but all other categories of disqualification as well. In a society divided on many gun control issues, laws that specify who is prohibited from owning a firearm stand as examples of broad agreement and should be enforced.

VI-2 Virginia should require background checks for all firearms sales, including those at gun shows.

In an age of widespread information technology, it should not be too difficult for anyone, including private sellers, to contact the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program for a background check that usually only takes minutes before transferring a firearm. The program already processes transactions made by registered dealers at gun shows. The practice should be expanded to all sales. Virginia should also provide an enhanced penalty for guns sold without a background check and later used in a crime.

VI-3 Anyone found to be a danger to themselves or others by a court-ordered review should be entered in the Central Criminal Records Exchange database regardless of whether they voluntarily agreed to treatment.

Some people examined for a mental illness and found to be a potential threat to themselves or others are given the choice of agreeing to mental treatment voluntarily to avoid being ordered by the courts to be treated involuntarily. That does not appear on their records, and they are free to purchase guns. Some highly respected people knowledgeable about the interaction of mentally ill people with the mental health system are strongly opposed to requiring voluntary treatment to be entered on the record and be sent to a state database. Their concern is that it might reduce the incentive to seek treatment voluntarily, which has many advantages to the individuals (e.g., less time in hospital, less stigma, less cost) and to the legal and medical personnel involved (e.g., less time, less paperwork, less cost). However, there still are powerful incentives to take the voluntary path, such as a shorter stay in a hospital and not having a record of mandatory treatment. It does not seem logical to the panel to allow someone found to be dangerous to be able to purchase a firearm.

VI-4 The existing attorney general’s opinion regarding the authority of universities and colleges to ban guns on campus should be clarified immediately.

The universities in Virginia have received or developed various interpretations of the law. The Commonwealth’s attorney general has provided some guidance to universities, but additional clarity is needed from the attorney general or from state legislation regarding guns at universities and colleges.

VI-5 The Virginia General Assembly should adopt legislation in the 2008 session clearly establishing the right of every institution of higher education in the Commonwealth to regulate the possession of firearms on campus if it so desires.

The panel recommends that guns be banned on campus grounds and in buildings unless mandated by law.

VI-6 Universities and colleges should make clear in their literature what their policy is regarding weapons on campus.

Prospective students and their parents, as well as university staff, should know the policy related to concealed weapons so they can decide whether they prefer an armed or arms-free learning environment.

VSSA will be opposing all attempts to force private sales to go through background checks. Gun shows played no part in the events that led up to the shootings and this is simply an attempt to use the Tech incident to advance an anti-gun agenda that has been defeated in every session of the General Assembly since it was introduced.

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