Legislation that seeks to keep handguns out of the hands of the mentally ill -- a measure prompted by the arrest in February of a Lady's Island woman accused of trying to shoot a loaded gun outside a Charleston school -- was signed Friday by Gov. Nikki Haley.
The new law requires state courts and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division to report people who have been deemed mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used for background checks of those seeking to purchase handguns. It also requires the decree of mental illness to come from a court, on the grounds that the person is either mentally incompetent or a danger to other people.
State Rep. Weston Newton, R-Bluffton, said South Carolina is the 39th state to pass such measures.
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 to be entered into the federal database.
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The bill originally gave a doctor or commission the power to declare someone mentally incompetent, but it was revised in the Senate. The version signed Friday requires the declaration to come from a court.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who helped craft the Senate revision, said the changes were made to prevent a "loose interpretation of the bill and restrictions on a fundamental right."
"When the bill came over from the House, the language was elastic," he said. "It could be employed to deny a person their Second Amendment right to carry a handgun. The new version of the bill has the right balance between ensuring public safety and Second Amendment rights."
State Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, called the bill "a really strong piece of legislation."
"It's a very bipartisan, collaborative, thoughtful bill," she said. "I hope it works well for the state and causes situations like (the Charleston school incident) to not occur."
The legislation was introduced in early March, a few weeks after an incident outside Ashley Hall, a private girls school in Charleston. Alice Boland, 28, of Lady's Island was charged with attempted murder after she tried to shoot at school officials outside the school. Her gun was loaded but didn't fire because there was no round in the chamber.
Boland told authorities she had gone to the school to make a political statement about "racist feminism."
Boland has a history of mental illness, according to court documents, and once faced a federal charge of threatening to kill President George W. Bush and other federal officials. A judge ordered her to a Texas mental facility, where she was forcefully given drugs. Boland was declared mentally incompetent, and she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in 2009, four years after her arrest. The charges were then dropped.
None of that history appeared in a background check by the Walterboro gun shop that sold Boland a Taurus PT-22 days before the incident at Ashley Hall.
Davis said the new state law would not apply to federal courts.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., continues to push for a federal law that would keep guns out of the hands of those who have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, as Boland did.
Graham wrote a proposal to require the federal government to submit information about people found mentally incompetent into the national database. However, it was attached to a broader gun control bill that was defeated in April.
"We'll continue to look for other opportunities when it is appropriate to add to other bills," Graham's spokesman, Kevin Bishop, said this week. "It's an important gap that needs to be closed in federal law, and we still want to see it done."
On March 22, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant ordered Boland to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if she is fit to stand trial. Boland was formally charged with attempted murder by the state on April 10.
Staff writer Gina Smith contributed to this report.
- SC House moves to ensure mentally ill can't buy guns: Apr. 16, 2013
- Grand jury: Boland lied about mental illness to buy gun; will face federal charges after all: Mar. 13, 2013
- Sen. Graham bill would keep guns from mentally ill: Mar. 6, 2013
- Beaufort woman accused of attempted murder won't face federal gun charge: Feb. 8, 2013
- Longtime Beaufort tennis player charged with attempted murder: Feb. 5, 2013