Federal law prohibits the sale of guns to anyone judged mentally ill, but most states are unable to share mental health records with an FBI computer network that would block the sale of guns to the mentally ill because of privacy laws or state computer systems that are incompatible.
That may change if a long dormant bill in Congress -- revived after the shootings at Virginia Tech -- is passed. The bill would provide $1 billion to states to pay for computer network upgrades and to remove privacy law obstacles, according to an Associated Press article. According to the article:
Privacy laws and lack of technical ability now prevent 28 states from sharing such information with the FBIâ€™s National Instant Criminal Background Check System based in Clarksburg, W.Va., according to a Justice Department report.
â€œEvery one of these records that is not transferred is the record of someone who federal law has said is too dangerous to buy a gun,â€ said Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Such a system should have prevented Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman who killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech, from buying guns. In 2005, Cho was declared mentally ill by a special judge's order, according to a New York Times article.