A measured response: VA's change in records reporting - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

A measured response: VA's change in records reporting after Va. Tech

Posted: Updated:
Geller. Geller.
Bonnie Bonnie

By Stacy Jacobson
sjacobson@abcnews4.com

RICHMOND, Va. (WCIV) -- In 2007, lawmakers in Richmond wanted to figure out how a man with a history of mental health problems legally purchased a gun and killed 32 people on Virginia Tech's campus.

So ABCNews4 went to Richmond to find out more about the changes lawmakers made in the wake of the shootings.

The massacre at Virginia Tech was the deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history. On April 16, 2007, a senior at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others.

"In the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre, he'd been ordered for treatment but he'd never shown. So that was never included in the federal database. Therefore he purchased his firearms legally," said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

But today, that wouldn't happen.

Geller said Virginia courts have reported mental health records to NICS since 2002. But in 2007, the law changed to include people like Cho, people who had been ordered for treatment, regardless of their attending the treatment sessions.

A year later, Virginia lawmakers passed another new law requiring court databases to record voluntary commitments. 

Where Virginia had Virginia Tech and Cho, South Carolina has Ashley Hall School and Alice Boland.

There is no telling how many people could have been killed outside Ashley Hall on Feb. 4 if the gun used had been loaded properly. Police said Alice Boland pulled the trigger several times.

The proposed South Carolina "Boland Bill" would send records of those who have been involuntarily committed or adjudicated mentally incompetent.

"With the expansion of mental health files now uploaded to NICS, we are seeing we're uploading more mental health files, but we are also seeing more denials," Geller said.

Records showed Virginia State Police denied 340 people who wanted to purchase a gun in 2012.

ABCNews4 visited a gun shop outside Richmond. Employees there said since 2007 they had seen people denied guns. The people denied were people the employees thought would have been able to successfully purchase guns before the Virginia Tech shootings.

Virginia's system is so advanced that Vice President Joe Biden and other cabinet members met with Richard Bonnie and other members of Virginia's Commission on Mental Health Law Reform when coming up with new gun legislation recommendations for the president.

"One thing they needed to understand that transforming these record systems in order to have better reporting to the NICS system was easier said than done," said Bonnie, who chaired the commission.

"We actually have a real-time sharing capability. So as soon as we get that information in on a mental health file, it's uploaded," Geller said.

Bonnie said the technology is just another way to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable.

"Apparently that is more complicated than you would think, just making that connection," Bonnie said.

Virginia State Police said they have denied more than 2,000 gun sales for mental health reasons.

With the new bill, South Carolina will make its own mark.

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