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U.S. Congress may act to keep guns from mentally ill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prompted by the Virginia Tech massacre, a U.S. Congress reluctant to tackle gun control may pass limited legislation to help keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, lawmakers and aides said on Sunday.

“Given the horror that happened at Virginia Tech, I think there’s a real chance of passing this,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday.”

A Republican leadership aide agreed, telling Reuters, “If there is a consensus, and it is in lieu of knee-jerk draconian measures, (the chances are) probably really good.”

Congress was initially hesitant to respond to the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech on Monday with any vow to toughen gun-control, a politically divisive issue.

In fact, Democrats, who had earlier championed such measures, including a since expired 1994 ban on assault weapons, effectively abandoned the issue when they won control of Congress last year.

Yet after it was determined that the Virginia Tech killer had been admitted earlier to a psychiatric hospital and deemed “a danger to himself and others,” lawmakers dusted off previously rejected legislation.

Seung-Hui Cho, a Virginia Tech student, took his own life after fatally shooting 32 others. He had bought two handguns in Virginia but his mental health had not made it to a federal registry.

The proposed bill would provide money to the states to help update the national instant-check background system with mental-health adjudications, which ban firearm purchases.

In the House of Representatives, Rep. Charles Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and gun-rights proponent, has teamed up on such legislation with Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a leading gun control advocate.

Appearing with Schumer on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, voiced support.

So did Sarah and Jim Brady, two leading gun-control advocates. They have helped lead the charge since Jim Brady was wounded in the 1981 attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. He was Reagan’s press secretary.

“We’re not working to take handguns away from people. But what we do believe is that we need to curb the availability of these weapons to prohibited classes: felons, fugitives, and of course in this case, those who have been adjudicated mentally ill,” said Sarah Brady who appeared with her husband on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

A bill passed by Congress a decade ago and named for Jim Brady, required an instant background check for gun buyers.

“What we had here, unfortunately, as come out in the last day or so, is that the system did break down,” Sarah Brady said.

Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai