Shocked into action by a Lady's Island woman who legally bought a gun and allegedly took it to a Charleston school, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina rolled out a bill Wednesday that bans some people who are mentally ill from buying firearms.
Under current law, court decisions involving mental competency do not have to be reported to the federal gun database, according to Graham, a Republican. Gun stores around the nation rely on the database to identify potential gun buyers who are ineligible to buy firearms.
Under the bill, backed by a bipartisan coalition of senators, certain federal court records pertaining to a person's mental health would have to be included in the database. That would block gun purchases, according to the senators.
That includes people who federal courts have found to be:
- Not guilty by reason of insanity or mental disease or defect. That was the case for Lady's Island resident Alice Boland, who was allowed to buy a handgun at a Walterboro gun store last month. She took the gun to Ashley Hall school in Charleston, pointed it at two school officials and pulled the trigger, according to police. The gun was loaded but did not fire because there was no cartridge in the chamber of the semiautomatic weapon, police said. Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in 2009 after threatening President George W. Bush, members of Congress and others, according to court records.
- An imminent danger to themselves or others, as well as those involuntarily committed to treatment by a psychiatric hospital.
- Incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case.
It does not include those who seek voluntary treatment for mental illness and those in mental institutions for observation. It also requires a process for reinstatement of gun-ownership rights at the state and federal levels for those who recover from mental illness.
"Our bill addresses the Boland case, and other similar instances, to ensure that those who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others aren't legally able to obtain a firearm," Graham said. "I would expect overwhelming bipartisan support for our legislation."
That support includes the National Rifle Association, which endorsed the bill Wednesday.
"The NRA strongly supports this legislation to improve the National Instant Check System," said Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "This bill will create accurate definitions of those who pose serious threats and should be barred from the ability to buy or possess a firearm, while protecting the rights of law abiding citizens and veterans."
Michel Faliero, leader of a group of Ashley Hall parents that has been pushing for new laws to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, applauded Graham's efforts. However, she said comprehensive reform is likely a long way off and will require work at the federal and state levels.
Faliero points to criminal cases in which a person with mental illness agrees to get treatment. Under Graham's bill, that person would still have access to guns.
"There are so many examples of where people can fall through the cracks and be able to buy a gun," Faliero said. "We've got to find a way to make sure they have their due process but aren't allowed to get guns."
Faliero and other Ashley Hall parents are working with state lawmakers and state Attorney General Alan Wilson to strengthen state gun laws. A bill working its way through the S.C. House and Senate would require the state to turn over mental-health records for inclusion in the federal gun database.
South Carolina is one of 12 states that does not report mental-health data to the federal government and is one of six states with no laws limiting those who are mentally ill from purchasing firearms in certain circumstances.
- How SC keeps mental-health data from gun database, Feb. 16, 2013
- Neighbors: Family of Beaufort woman charged with attempted murder 'very private', Feb. 13, 2013
- Beaufort woman accused of attempted murder won't face federal gun charge, Feb. 8, 2013
- Graham's announcement can be viewed live online by clicking here.