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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 2.0° F  Fair
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Wisconsin's gun laws would not have stopped Cho

Firearm defenders have responded to news that Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui bought one of the guns he used from a Wisconsin dealer by noting that the sale was actually completed by a Virginia pawnbroker, under that state's laws.

But the fact is that someone like Cho, despite having once been deemed an "imminent danger" to himself and others, would have zero problem buying firearms in Wisconsin.

As Isthmus reported in 2004 ("Decidedly Dangerous, Easily Armed." 7/9/04), prospective gun buyers must fill out a form that asks, among other things, whether they "have ever been adjudicated mentally defective [or] committed to a mental institution." But if they lie on the form, they'll likely never be caught, because medical privacy laws keep this information under wraps.

"Our state laws would prohibit the mental health system from reporting that either to us or the federal government," Mike Roberts of the state Justice Department told Isthmus back then. The only times a gun sale might be stopped due to mental illness -- even raging psychosis expressed as fantasies of mass murder -- would be if the person had been found not guilty of a crime by reason of mental defect or ordered by a judge not to possess guns.

The Isthmus article concerned a Madison woman who committed suicide using a gun she was able to buy despite past involuntary mental health commitments. At the time, state Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) indicated a willingness to sponsor legislation to plug this hole in the state's gun laws, but there was no interest. Can it be that that's still the case?

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