State House members are to be commended for their overwhelming support of a bill aimed at preventing mentally ill people from buying guns.
The House voted 112-0 to approve the bill, sending it to the Senate.
The bill closes a critical information gap. It is already illegal to sell guns to people with serious histories of mental illness, but South Carolina does not send that data to the federal government to include in its database. That means gun store operators do not always know when someone has a mental health history that prohibits them from buying a firearm.
The issue came into focus with the arrest Feb. 4 of Alice Boland of Lady's Island on charges of attempted murder and four other gun-related violations. Boland once pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on a federal charge of threatening to kill then-President George W. Bush and members of Congress, but she was able to purchase a gun just days before the incident at Ashley Hall, a school in downtown Charleston. Police say she pointed a gun at a school staff member, but the gun didn't fire because there was no cartridge in the chamber.
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Boland faces federal charges that she lied on a federal form that all potential purchasers must complete before buying a gun from a store.
The measure now before the state Senate requires state courts and agencies to send information to federal authorities about South Carolina residents who have been adjudicated to have a mental health problem. The information would be included in a national database gun retailers use to identify those prohibited from buying firearms.
It also offers protections to people who have been deemed mentally ill. Neither the courts nor the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division can submit information to the federal database about a person's specific diagnosis or treatment. SLED must keep confidential the information submitted to it by the courts and can only disclose it to the National Instant Background Check System.
A person who has been prohibited from buying a gun can petition the courts to have the prohibition removed after the commitment order has expired, but must provide "clear and convincing evidence" that he or she is not likely endanger the public.
The bill strikes the right balance between individual rights and the need to protect the public. We hope to see it signed into law soon.