Pretty Much a Certified Nut

On Dean’s World, Ron Coleman writes:

Okay, so we’ve nailed down a few things here:

1. Cho Seung-Hui bought his gun legally.

2. Cho Seung-Hui was a nut.

3. Cho Seung-Hui was pretty much a certified nut.

4. Federal law makes it illegal to sell a handgun to a certified nut.

5. Something awful happened in Virginia.

He’s correct, but the problem is that “pretty much” bit in point #3. #4 doesn’t say it’s illegal to sell a handgun to a “pretty much” certified nut, just actual certified nuts.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that I think it’s good that this pretty much certified nut was allowed to buy a handgun. But headlines like ‘Mentally Ill’ But Still Able to Buy a Gun and Did He Buy the Guns Legally? A federal background check cleared Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui to buy weapons. It should have stopped him cold. aren’t quite telling it right. Here’s why:

A) He wasn’t certified “mentally ill”.

B) The federal background check shouldn’t have stopped him.

Otherwise, they’re pretty much spot on. Pretty much.

For this loser to be “certified mentally ill”, he had to be, well, certified. He wasn’t. For the federal background check to have stopped him, he would have had to have had a record that flagged him as a “no buy”. He didn’t.

So unless the information we have so far is wrong or incomplete (and it probably is to some extent), the guns were bought legally and the federal background check worked just fine.

The next step is to take a look at the system(s) and see what could or should be done to improve them. Virginia gets to decide who is listed as certified or not. Maybe they need to rethink their position. Those who evaluated this loser got to decide what to do with him. Maybe they need to rethink their procedures when presented with a case like this. It’s the definition of “certified” that needs to be rethought.

Now, the loser in question checked ‘No’ to the “Are you nuts?” question common to firearms purchase forms. He clearly was nuts, so he lied. That actually makes the purchase illegal, I guess. Maybe they should include a “If you answered ‘No’ to the above question, are you SURE you’re not nuts?” question or something.

Now, Murdoc has no trouble with keeping weapons out of the hands of those incapable of acting responsibly with them, and if that means tightening mental illness reporting standards, I won’t complain. But I do caution against looking back after the fact and pretending things are broken that aren’t, and I caution against a rush to open up all sorts of currently-private data (such as mental records in many states including Virginia) for a federal firearms database on the basis of this one incident. If that sort of thing should be used to limit firearms purchases, shouldn’t it also be used to profile potential terrorists?

But that’s not allowed.


  1. In the Soviet Union they certified that you were nuts if you believed in wacky things like democracy and capitalism.

  2. I do wonder if his encounter with the mental health system in 2005 showed him what to do and what not to do in order to stay off their radar. It’d be interesting to see if he stopped turning in writing assignments featuring graphic violence after he got sent to counselling and removed from that one class.