[JURIST] Virgina Tech shooting gunman Seung-Hui Cho was technically prohibited from purchasing firearms after a Virginia court found Cho to be an "imminent danger to himself" in December 2005 and issued an order [text] for Cho to receive psychiatric treatment, the New York Times reported Friday. Under federal law [18 USC 922 (g)(4), text], persons "who have been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution" are prohibited from possessing or receiving "any firearm or ammunition." US federal firearm regulations [27 CFR 178.11, text] define "adjudicated as a mental defective" to include a determination by a court that the person "is a danger to himself."
Virgina is among 22 states currently submitting mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) [FBI backgrounder], which requires Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to request background checks on individuals attempting to receive a firearm. Despite being the leading state in reporting mental disqualifications, Virginia's state rules on "mental disqualifications to firearms purchase" differs from the federal regulations and only require submission of records of persons who have been "involuntarily committed" or ruled mentally "incapacitated." Legislation seeking to improve NICS enforcement [HR 297 backgrounder] has been introduced in the House of Representatives in the past three terms, but has never become law. The New York Times has more.