Hazleton Standard Speaker | January 28, 2011
For all the debate and controversy following the recent deadly rampage in Tucson, Ariz. a few weeks ago, there is no doubt that alleged killer and would-be assassin Jared Loughner should not have been able to acquire the semi-automatic Glock 19 and high-capacity magazine used in the shooting spree.
Under federal law, a database known as the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is supposed to include the names of mentally ill people, violent and drug criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence and others who are prohibited from owning handguns. Gun dealers are supposed to check a buyer's ID against that database.
But the Tucson case is at least the second in which records missing from the database contributed to mass murder and mayhem.
In 2007 Choo Seung-Hui's name should have been in the federal database but was not when he obtained two weapons from a gun dealer. He used the guns to kill 33 people on the campus of Virginia Tech University.
Jared Loughner's name also should have been in the database, especially after Congress passed the NICS Improvement Act in 2008, in response to the Virginia Tech murders. But Loughner's name was not in the system.
The 2008 law did produce an increase in the number of mentally ill people included in the system, from fewer to 300,000 in 2007 to more than 1.1 million now.
But compliance has been spotty. Pennsylvania, regrettably, is one of 13 states that has failed to comply with the 2008 law. That means that as many as 400,000 Pennsylvanians suffering from mental illness would be precluded from buying weapons in Pennsylvania, but not in other states, because the state government has failed to share its information with the national database.
That should be corrected.
Meanwhile members of Congress, if they are serious about responding meaningfully to the attempted assassination of a colleague, should make sure that the NCIS system is fully funded. And, they should mandate background checks for all gun sales, ending the exemption for gun shows, for example.