Even as lawmakers look for ways to curb gun violence, the federal government and various states haven’t sent send millions of mental-health and drug abuse records to the database that’s designed to keep firearms from people who are barred from owning them, according to recent studies.
A host of logistical problems – including concerns about violating privacy, misunderstandings about which records should be submitted and a lack of money and training – has left the National Instant Criminal Background Check System without the information that’s necessary to prevent guns from ending up in dangerous hands.
Requiring backgrounds checks on all gun purchases is one of several steps Congress has been debating since the shocking murder of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Conn., just before Christmas. But even if that becomes law, it won’t solve a serious but little-discussed problem: The database is incomplete.
Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech senior behind the worst school shooting in the nation’s history, was able to purchase a pair of semi-automatic pistols that he used to kill 32 people on campus in April 2007 because he passed a federal background check. That’s because the state of Virginia didn’t submit a crucial piece of information: that a court had earlier ordered Cho to seek treatment for mental illness.