New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

Document Type



Criminal Law Bulletin, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2011


The Virginia Tech massacre and the Tucson rampage led many commentators to demand that firearms be kept out of the hands of the dangerous mentally ill. The fact is that individuals who have been "adjudicated as mentally defective" or " committed to a mental hospital" have not been eligible to purchase firearms from federally licensed firearms dealers since the 1968 Gun Control Act. Those statutory terms are somewhat confusing and both over inclusive and under inclusive, but an even bigger problem is that that the states have been unable and/or unwilling to provide information to the National Instant Check System (NICS), the FBI's database of persons ineligible to purchase firearms. The 2007 NICS Improvement Act, passed after the Virginia Tech massacre, sought to improve the situation, but its success is dubious.

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