In February 2013, South Carolina was potentially seconds away from being the site of another tragic school shooting.
A Lady's Island woman, Alice Boland, who had a long and well-documented court history of mental illness, purchased a Taurus PT-22 handgun at a Walterboro gun shop. A few days later, she took it to Ashley Hall, a private school in Charleston. As parents waited in the carpool line to pick up their students, Boland aimed her new firearm and pulled the trigger in the direction of two school officials while students stood nearby, according to police reports. Her gun was loaded but didn't fire because there was no round in the chamber, police have said.
South Carolinians were shocked to learn that Boland's long history of mental illness -- including a charge of threatening to kill President George W. Bush, a court-ordered stay in a Texas mental facility and her 2009 not-guilty by reason of insanity plea that was accepted by a court -- never showed up when the gun shop employee ran the required background check.
It turned out that South Carolina and many other states do not routinely ship court records to the FBI for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The result: Mentally ill people known to be dangerous skirt past background checks and buy guns.
We're thankful to S.C. lawmakers who moved quickly last year to at least partially close the loophole by requiring state courts and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division to send the past 10 years' worth of mental-health court records to the FBI for inclusion in the national gun database. Going forward, these records must be submitted continually.
Statistics released this week show how the new law, dubbed the Boland Bill, is making South Carolinians safer. Based on the 10 years of submissions, 136 in-state and 21 out-of-state firearm purchases have been denied. Also, 145 concealed-weapons permits were revoked, and 34 applications were denied.
Still, important work is left undone. The state law does not apply to federal courts. Thus, no guarantee exists that federal court records are passed to the FBI.
While most court findings of mental incompetency come from state probate courts, that's not always true. In Boland's case, a federal court required that she be forcefully treated for schizophrenia after she threatened to kill Bush and members of Congress, and she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in a federal court.
Following the Boland incident, Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced legislation to clear up confusion over whether federal law requires federal court records to be included in the database.
But gridlock has stalled the bill. It seems the U.S. Senate has little appetite these days for gun legislation -- even when it's a common-sense change.
We encourage Graham's office to keep pushing. Until it's passed, there's limited comfort in the existence of the gun database -- and limitless potential that firearms are in the wrong hands.