VTech Fallout: Federal Cho Seung-Hui CYA?

I geniunely don’t quite know what to make of this. It could be nothing, could be something. The BATF today fax blasted gun dealers around the country with an open letter regarding the Virginia Tech killer, Cho Seung-Hui, and his successful purchases of the firearms used in the massacre. The ATF letter’s aim is to inform dealers that it’s unlawful to sell guns to persons who have been adjudicated mentally defective, as Cho had. Here’s the letter, click on the images to see them full scale.

ATF letter page 1

ATF Cho letter page 2

Here’s the relevant passage as to Cho and his status, and a future remedy on the part of ATF:

ATF Cho quote

Cho, according to his Wikipedia page, should not have been able to purchase firearms:

Because Cho was not involuntarily committed to a mental health facility as an inpatient, he was still legally eligible to buy guns under Virginia law. However, according to Virginia law, “A magistrate has the authority to issue a detention order upon a finding that a person is mentally ill and in need of hospitalization or treatment.” The magistrate also must find that the person is an imminent danger to himself or others. Virginia officials and other law experts have argued that, under United States federal law, Justice Barnett’s order meant that Cho had been “adjudicated as a mental defective” and was thus ineligible to purchase firearms under federal law.

But the way I understand how the background check system works, the dealer checks with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and if it discovers that the intended buyer either has a criminal background or has been found mentally ill enough to be a threat, then the NICS will tell the dealer to disallow the sale. That apparently did not happen in Cho’s case.

The ATF letter says that it’s going to re-work the ATF Form 4473, which gun buyers fill out in order to buy a gun, and which asks buyers if they have a criminal background or have been found mentally ill, etc. No clarification will stop them from lying on a 4473, as Cho evidently did. So it will still be up to the NICS to find and stop criminals and the mentally ill from buying a gun. And from the looks of things, it was NICS and not any local dealer that failed to stop Cho.

The evident point of the ATF letter is to remind local dealers of their responsibility to keep dangerous people like Cho from obtaining firearms. But the evidence suggests that the failure was at the federal NICS level. If that’s the case, then the open letter looks like a CYA move to me. But I’m open to other interpretations. It would be good to hear from Virginia gun dealers on this. If we have any reading the site, email me at bryan — at — hotair — dot — com.