Bush signs bill to prevent severely mentally ill people from purchasing firearms
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- President Bush signed legislation Tuesday aimed at preventing the severely mentally ill from buying guns, in a rare bipartisan agreement with the Democratic-led Congress after the bloody Virginia Tech shooting.
New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy introduced the bill in 2002 after a shooting that year in a church. But the legislation did not gain the momentum it needed until after the Virginia Tech shootings in April, and families of the victims lobbied to strengthen the law.
"Had it become law earlier, it may well have saved the lives of 32 students who were killed at Virginia Tech by another mentally ill gunman," Schumer said.
Virginia Tech gunman Seung Hui Cho passed a background check and bought two guns even though a Virginia court had deemed him mentally defective.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush strongly supports the goals of the bill.
"We saw with the terrible shootings at Virginia Tech last year that an incomplete system can have tragic consequences," Fratto said.
Also Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine proposed requiring background checks for everyone who tries to buy firearms at gun shows -- legislation that he called crucial to helping prevent incidents such as the shootings at Virginia Tech.
In Virginia and most other states, people can buy firearms from private, unlicensed sellers at gun shows without a background check. Such checks are required for sales by licensed dealers, whether they are at gun shows or elsewhere.
Attempts to expand background checks in Virginia have failed repeatedly.
The bill authorizes up to $1.3 billion for states to improve tracking and reporting of individuals who shouldn't qualify to legally buy a gun, including people involuntarily confined by a mental institution.