COLUMBIA -- The federal government will spend nearly $1 million to improve background checks for South Carolina gun purchases.
The Department of Justice awarded the State Law Enforcement Division a grant of more than $900,000 to improve the National Criminal Background Check System, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles announced Friday. NICS is used to verify who is eligible to purchase a firearm.
Several recent events, including one in Charleston, have highlighted the NICS system's mental health information. Alice Boland of Lady's Island was charged in February with attempted murder after a failed attempt to shoot two employees at Ashley Hall, an all-girls prep school in Charleston. She had earlier been found mentally ill but was able to legally purchase a handgun. No one was injured in the attempt.
In a release, Nettles said the grant will "help state, local and federal law enforcement enforce" laws that prohibit individuals found to be mentally ill or committed to mental health institution from owning a gun.
In May, the state legislature padded a law intended to prevent guns from being sold to people with serious mental health problems. It requires state courts and the State Law Enforcement Division to report people who have been deemed mentally ill by the courts to NICS. State and federal law already make it illegal in many cases for the mentally impaired to buy guns, but South Carolina had no rules requiring such cases be entered into the federal database.
Even if it had been entered, it is not clear the Charleston incident would have been averted.
Boland, who according to court documents had a history of mental illness, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in 2009 on federal charges that she threatened to kill then-President George W. Bush and members of Congress. The charges were later dropped.
No record of Boland's federal-court history appeared in her NICS background check when she purchased a handgun from a shop in Walterboro days before the incident in Charleston.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, has introduced legislation requiring federal court records pertaining to a person's mental health would have to be included in the database.