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By Sean Gorman October 7, 2013

Cuccinelli says Virginia is No. 1 in stopping the mentally ill from buying guns

GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli says the state has made strides in keeping guns away from the mentally ill since the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

"What we’ve done in Virginia is we have become the number one state per capita in screening out people with mental illness from gun purchases," Cuccinelli said during a Sept. 25 debate with Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

We wondered if Virginia really is No. 1.

To support his statement, Cuccinelli campaign spokeswoman Anna Nix pointed to a chart in the Seattle Times that ranked states on that measure.The chart was based on figures compiled by Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- a gun control group started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Those figures show Virginia had submitted 2,254 mental health records to the national background check system for every 100,000 residents in the state. That was the highest ratio among all states in late 2011.

The gun control group said in a November 2011 version of its Fatal Gaps report that Virginia had been sharing records with the national background check database for a decade, but the volume of records shared increased after the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy.

In that case, Seung-Hui Cho, was able to purchase two handguns he used to kill 32 people despite going through federal and state background checks at licensed gun dealers, according to a 2009 panel report on the shooting to then Gov. Tim Kaine.

Cho had been deemed a danger to himself by a Virginia court, and that normally would have made him ineligible to buy the weapons. But his information was not shared with the federal National Instant Background Check System, the panel said, because of ambiguities in Virginia’s guns laws.

The Virginia Tech shootings sparked a nationwide examination of the national background check system. Congress passed a 2008 law providing incentives for states to submit mental health records to the national background check system, but they are under no requirement comply. Virginia also passed legislation expanding the mental health records that have to be sent to the federal and state background check databases.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns notes on its interactive chart that in the wake of the massacre, Virginia became the national leader in submitting mental health records to the national background check system.

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It remained at the top of the group’s list until October 2012, Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in an e-mail. Since, then, however, Pennsylvania has vaulted from the bottom of the pack to the top.

That month, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Pennsylvania State Police resolved lengthy legal and technical problems and transmitted 643,167 mental health records to the NICS.

The submission means that Pennsylvania has submitted about 5,003 mental health records to the national background check system per 100,000 residents.

Virginia was a distant No. 2 in the latest report by the mayors’ group, which counts all submissions through Oct. 31, 2012. Virginia had sent 180,338 mental health records to NICS. That breaks down to about 2,220 records per 100,000 residents.

Rounding out the Top 5 were Delaware, California and Washington.

The Bottom 5, in descending order, were Oklahoma, Louisiana, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The gun control group plans to issue an updated report in the coming weeks.

Our ruling

Cuccinelli said Virginia is "the number one state per capita in screening out people with mental illness from gun purchases." His claim is based on outdated numbers.  

Virginia used to be No.1, but was surpassed by Pennsylvania last year. Now, we’re a distant No. 2. That’s still impressive.

So Cuccinelli’s statement is largely accurate but needs the clarification. We rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources

Ken Cuccinelli’s comments at the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce debate, Sept. 25, 2013.

E-mail from Anna Nix, spokeswoman for Cuccinelli for Governor, Sept. 26, 2013.

E-mails from Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Oct. 1, 2013.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Fatal Gaps, accessed Sept. 27, 2013.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Fatal Gaps, November, 2011.

Virginia Tech Review Panel presentation to Gov. Tim Kaine, "Mass shootings at Virginia Tech: Addendum to the report of the review panel," November, 2009.

Government Accountability Office, "Sharing promising practices and assessing incentives could better position Justice to assist states in providing records for background checks," July 2012.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pa. sends mental health data for gun checks," Jan. 19, 2013.

The Seattle Times, "State found better than most on gun-owner mental-health checks," March 17, 2013.

The New York Times, "Gaps in FBI data undercut background checks for guns," Dec. 20, 2012.

Daily Press, "Gun sale database lacking info," Jan. 14, 2013.

Roanoke Times, "Guns and people who shouldn’t have them," June 15, 2007.

USA Today, "Checking gun buyers for mental illness hinges on states," March 28, 2013.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Kain defense report on Tech massacre," Nov. 7, 2008.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, MAIG press release, Aug. 16, 2012.

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Cuccinelli says Virginia is No. 1 in stopping the mentally ill from buying guns

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