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Va. Tech reforms might not stop mentally ill from getting guns

Sunday - 12/23/2012, 2:58pm  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Even the substantial changes made in mental health treatment in Virginia after 32 people were killed by a gunman at Virginia Tech in 2007 may not be enough to stop mentally ill people from getting guns.

The condition of the country's mental health system has become a big issue following the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Virginia's mental health care system received sharp criticism after the Virginia Tech shootings because the killer, who had been under mental health care, was still able to legally buy two hand guns.

Gov. Bob McDonnell says millions of dollars were added for treatment.

"We also reformed our mental health laws with regard to the whole procedure for getting adjudicated incompetent," says McDonnell.

Those with mental health issues who go through the system and are reviewed by a judge are now in a database preventing them from legally buying or owning a gun.

But that would not prevent many people with mental health issues from getting a gun. People with mental health issues often go undetected unless they have brushes with the law.

Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) says part of the problem may be the federal privacy laws known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

"If you're a spouse or a parent, you can't even know, according to the HIPAA laws, that in fact your spouse or your child is receiving this kind of treatment, even though your insurance is paying for it."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)