Another Tragic Anniversary

The one-year anniversary of a killing in South Bend, Indiana, by someone who never should have been allowed to purchase a firearm, illustrates many of the weaknesses in our gun laws.
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The one-year anniversary of a tragic killing from South Bend, Indiana, illustrates many of the weaknesses in our gun laws: in a single incident, we have law enforcement officers being shot and killed, by someone who never should have been allowed to purchase a firearm in the first place, but who still passed a background check because of incomplete records, from a corrupt gun dealer at a gun show.

On April 24, 2007, South Bend Police Corporal Nick Polizzotto was shot and killed, and Patrolman Michael Norby was wounded, in a shootout at the Wooden Indian Motel.

They were shot by a man who had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution and who bought a gun at a gun show from a licensed dealer who later pleaded guilty and is now serving Federal prison time for falsifying Brady background check records.

Worse still, the gun dealer's dishonesty was only part of the story. Because the states do such a poor job of providing records of the dangerously mentally ill to the Brady background check system, the shooter's dangerous mental history didn't prevent him from buying his gun.

The NICS Improvement Act - which gives states monetary incentives to supply records to the Brady background check system - should help prevent other mentally dangerous gun buyers from getting guns in the future from licensed gun dealers who follow the law.

Unlike West Virginia, however, which passed legislation less than a month ago to address this problem, states like Indiana have yet to forward any records of the dangerously mentally ill to NICS.

The following is from a powerful
that ran last week on South Bend's CBS affiliate, WSBT-TV. The video is
. You can read more about this tragic story
,
, and
.

A CLOSER LOOK AT THE LAW

It's been 40 years since Congress banned the sale of firearms to anyone deemed "mentally defective" by a judge, and today, answering "yes" to "question 11-F" on a federal background check means an automatic disqualification for a handgun permit or purchase.

It reads, simply: "Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution?"

It's aimed at preventing scenes like the one that played out on the campus of Virginia Tech just over one year ago. The gunman there, Sung Hui Cho, was responsible for the worst massacre on a college campus in U.S. history.

Court records show Cho was also ordered to receive mental health treatment by a judge who also declared him "dangerously mentally ill."

But he never went.

Even so, his background check came back clean.

So did Barnaby's, the day after the gun he bought illegally was used to kill Polizzotto.

Former Bristol firearms dealer Ronald Wedge was sentenced to serve prison time for falsifying information on Barnaby's application, and allowing him to buy the gun before his background check cleared.

But the fact remains, it did clear.

The question for lawmakers in both Indiana and Virginia one year ago, was why?

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS

They quickly found that the answers lie in the mental health records kept by each state in the nation. Just over 30 states share some, or all of those records with the federal government. In our area, Illinois recently began sharing many of their records, and Michigan is one of the few states in the country that shares nearly all their records.

But some states share none of their mental health records. That means all records of treatment, including treatment ordered by a court, is not included in the FBI's NICS database used to check the backgrounds of potential gun buyers.

In other words, in many cases, the FBI has no way of knowing whether or not that buyer has ever had any sign of mental illness.

One year ago, as Scott Barnaby pulled the trigger, Indiana was one of those states.Today, it still is, and Nick's brother Tony Polizzotto calls that unacceptable.

"It seems like a no brainer to me," he said. "Half the states [still] don't have this law in action. And it's something that really needs to be brought to the forefront."

In the wake of Polizzotto's shooting and the campus shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, it has been brought to the forefront in the Hoosier state.

Brady Background checks make it harder for dangerous people to get guns, but they only work when the states send in the proper information. Indiana - indeed, most of the country - needs to do a much better job in reporting those who have been defined as "prohibited purchasers" by Federal law since 1968 to this database.

(Note to readers: This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on bradycampaign.org/blog and the Huffington Post.)

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