NEWS

Gun Laws Criticized After NIU Massacre

By Matthew Harwood

Valentine's Day's campus shooting at Northern Illinois University has stoked renewed criticism of legal loopholes that allow persons with histories of mental illness to purchase firearms, reports ABC News.

Steven Kazmierczak, the 27 year-old former NIU grad student who murdered five students before killing himself last week in a university lecture hall, suffered from persistant mental illness. During high school, Kazmierczak's parents committed him to a Chicago mental institution. He remained on medication into adulthood, but stopped taking it before going on his rampage with an arsenal of weapons procured over the prior six months.

Kazmierczak's history with mental illness has provoked questions regarding how he was eligible to legally purchase the weapons he used in the massacre.

According to ABC News:

Federal law says that if a court orders a person's commitment to a mental institution, that information is supposed to go into a federal database. A background check against that database would flag such a gun buyer, who would not be legally allowed to buy a firearm.

Police believe Kazmierczak's parents — not a judge — voluntarily committed him. Under current law, that voluntary commitment by his family would not make it illegal for him to purchase guns.

Gun control advocates say the law presents a gaping, potentially dangerous loophole.

Yet police tell ABC News that even if there was a record of Kazmierczak's mental illness, a background check probably wouldn't have discovered it because "mental health records aren't readily available to police."

Currently, 32 states provide some mental health records for federal background checks for gun purchases. (Critics point out that the vast majority of records come from three states: Virginia, California, and Michigan.) The other 18 however, don't, due to the time, cost, and concern over patient privacy rights.

Records submitted by states are added to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS). Even though the system has added 402,000 files, Paul Helmke, president of Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told ABC News that "25 percent of felony records, and 80 percent to 90 percent of mental health records are missing from the system."

The article notes that President Bush recently signed legislation that makes mental health records more readily available, but gun control advocates and police fear it will take time to implement, if it ever gets off the ground at all.

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