Preventing another tragedy

One would think a bill that could help prevent the mentally ill from owning firearms, a bill endorsed by both the National Rifle Association and gun-control advocates would be able to get through the U.S. Senate. Yet, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has made himself into a one-man barricade preventing the passage of legislation that would clarify the kinds of mental health records that states need to forward to the national background check system. The bill has widespread bipartisan support, and many family members of the 32 people killed in the Virginia Tech shootings last year have traveled to Washington to ask Congress to close this loophole.

The gunman who perpetrated the Virginia Tech massacre, Seung-Hui Cho, should have been barred under law from buying the guns he used because of his mental health history. As it stands, federal law prevents those declared mentally ill by a court or involuntarily committed to a mental health institution from buying guns, but if, as in the Virginia Tech case, the records aren’t forwarded to the national database, a very dangerous person can easily slide through the system’s cracks.

Coburn put a hold on the bill, which prevents it from even coming to the floor for a vote. He argues, unconvincingly, that the $400 million price tag to help states comply is too high, and that war-stressed veterans may have their Second Amendment rights infringed if they are diagnosed as mentally unstable.

Veteran or otherwise, no one who has been declared mentally unfit by trained medical professionals should be able to buy firearms on demand. If the only way to appease Sen. Coburn is to outline a procedure by which a person can be re-evaluated after they receive treatment for their problem, then the authors of the bill should include such language. We owe it to the memory of those killed at Virginia Tech and the more than 30,000 Americans who are killed every year by gun violence to pass this legislation as soon as possible.