Mental Illness and Gun Rights

By: Stephen McLamb
By: Stephen McLamb

Knoxville (WVLT) - The shooting at Virginia Tech earlier this year brought new light to people with mental illness having access to weapons.

But then on Tuesday that situation came close to home after a Morgan County man who left a mental facility came home and later shot himself during a standoff.

Virginia closed the loophole for people with mental problems having access to weapons. What about Tennessee?

Unfortunately, the loop hole is still there.

As long as they don't have a criminal record and are willing to lie on their application there is no way a background check will find it.

Following the shooting at Virginia Tech by a man with mental problems, Virginia quickly closed the loophole which allowed the gunman the ability to purchase a gun.

But on Tuesday in Morgan County, a man burned his truck and shot himself during a standoff with police.

"He had no criminal record that he could just go buy one legally and pass, and he was a mental patient,” says Doug Lively, whose brother died during a standoff with police.

As it turns out, prosecutors say a man with mental problems can get a weapon in Tennessee right now if he doesn't have a criminal record. District attorney Russell Johnson says laws designed to protect those in hospitals is hurting efforts to keep guns away from the seriously mentally ill.

"We don't have information to find that out because of privacy laws, the federal HIPPA law, prevents most people from finding out that information by way of a background check,” says Russell Johnson, Morgan County District Attorney.

The Virginia Tech and Morgan county incidents are a concern of local representative Frank Niceley.

"Just like yesterday and you know you have a criminal who robs you he may shoot you, may kill you. But these people who are mentally unstable, they want to kill twenty or thirty people,” State Representative Frank Niceley says.

Both Nicely and Senator Tim Burchett have bills in the legislature which would close those loopholes. Niceley says the democrats have stalled his bill but new incentives from Washington may get his bill back on track to passage.

"They have passed a bill in Washington to send money to the states to help them offset the costs of reporting these people,” Nicely says.

But getting the loop hole taken care of won't be done overnight.

Niceley says the next chance they get to fix it is when the legislature goes back in session in January of 2008.


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