RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Even though the weapon used to carry out last week’s Washington Navy Yard bloodshed was bought in Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell says that’s no reason to tighten the state’s firearms access laws, including requiring longer gun purchase waiting periods.
In his monthly call-in show on Washington’s WTOP radio, McDonnell said there will be a full examination of state laws, including mental health evaluation procedures, after Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Navy Yard. Alexis was killed by law enforcement.
“I’ve yet to see any conclusive data that suggests that a waiting period would work. We have an instant background check in Virginia. We are one of the first states to have that some 20 years or so ago,” the pro-gun Republican governor said on Tuesday morning’s program.
Yet Alexis passed a criminal background check and bought the gun in Virginia despite a history of violent outbursts. It was also revealed that he had told police he was hearing voices and that he was being treated by the Veterans Administration for serious mental problems.
It’s not the first time a mentally troubled person with a history of violence has been able to circumvent background check watch lists and legally buy a weapon later used to carry out a mass killing.
Seung-Hui Cho carried out the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at Virginia Tech in April 2007 with handguns he acquired in Virginia.
He bought one online from a Wisconsin dealer and picked it up in February 2007 at a Blacksburg pawn shop, and he bought another in March from a Roanoke gun dealer. Cho had been adjudicated a threat to himself because of his mental illness. That distinction would have stopped his gun purchase under a 1968 federal law had Cho not lied on forms he had to fill out before the purchase that asked if he had ever been found mentally defective.
The next winter, Virginia’s General Assembly tightened its mental health reporting requirements. It also prompted Congress in 2007 to pass legislation that required states to submit the records or risk losing up to 5 percent of the federal funding they receive to fight crime.
“We have significant and thorough disqualifications for mental health reasons in the database in Virginia now. All these things, I think, ought to be properly looked at,” he said.
Yet it didn’t stop Alexis despite his substantial history of mental health issues. He bought the shotgun used in the Sept. 16 attack just two days before the rampage.
McDonnell said Wednesday that it was “simplistic” to say that a waiting period would have stopped the violence.
The discussion, he said, always boils down to a clash between security versus freedom.
“We try not to favor prior restraint, whether it’s speech or conduct in America,” he said.
Later, a caller who identified herself only as Bridget challenged McDonnell on his contention that the focus should be on greater mental health services, asking how he would make them affordable to low-income people given his opposition to federal health care reforms. McDonnell responded by noting modest increases in Virginia spending for mental health along with transportation and education funding during his term, then quickly segued into a lecture on runaway federal debt now at $17 trillion.