House Okays Bill to Improve Gun Background Checks for Mentally Ill

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - The House Wednesday approved a bill to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill in what is considered the first major federal gun control legislation in over a decade. This comes as a panel ordered by President Bush to investigate the Virginia Tech shootings unveiled its findings Wednesday afternoon.

The measure closes a loophole that allowed Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui to legally purchase two weapons which he used to kill 32 students and faculty members at the school.

Cho was ordered to undergo outpatient psychological treatment and should have been prohibited from buying guns, but the state did not send his information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said "the chances are very strong" that the bill - backed by the National Rifle Association - will be passed in the Senate as long as amendments are not attached which are opposed by gun rights advocates.

"When the NRA and I agree on legislation, you know that it's going to get through, become law and do some good," Schumer said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the bill "a step forward in improving our nation's background check system."

She said the measure "authorizes funding and provides practical steps to encourage states to provide timely and accurate information on individuals who are barred under current law from acquiring guns."

It also "requires the attorney general to work with law enforcement and the mental health community to establish protocols for protecting the privacy of the information sharing," Pelosi added.

"We are following the legislation closely and are supportive of Congress's efforts to strengthen the background check system," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Also included in the bill is the automatic restoration of gun purchasing rights of veterans who were diagnosed with mental problems as part of the application process for disability benefits. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said 80,000 veterans were placed into the background check system by the Clinton administration.

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