In announcing Ashley Hall-inspired gun bill, Graham says he ‘heard your voices’
Anyone who has been treated against their will at a psychiatric hospital or avoided prison time by claiming insanity would not be able to buy a gun legally from a retailer under the proposal U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham announced Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham’s bill would make it so people deemed by a court to be mentally ill would fail a background check required for purchasing a gun from a retailer. According to Graham’s office, the measure would pertain to people who:Are determined to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.Are found guilty but mentally ill in a criminal case.Pleaded not guilty in a criminal case by reason of insanity or mental disease or defect.Were incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case.Were not guilty only by reason of lack of mental responsibility under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.Required involuntary inpatient treatment by a psychiatric hospital.Required involuntary outpatient treatment by a psychiatric hospital based on a finding that the person is an imminent danger to himself or to others.Required involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital for any reason, including drug use.
South Carolina’s senior senator unveiled the measure to address what he called flaws in the system for background checks that potential buyers are subjected to.
As it is, the database allowed 28-year-old Alice Boland to buy a pistol in February. Police said she used it three days later to threaten school officials in downtown Charleston, and as Boland’s history of involuntary treatment for schizophrenia emerged, calls for action from lawmakers mounted.
“To people in the Charleston area, I’ve heard your voices,” Graham said. “This law captures decisions of courts. We’re not going to take your rights away if someone said something bad about you down the street.”
Graham, a Republican, discussed the “NICS Reporting Improvement Act” alongside Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Jeff Flake, R-Arizona; and Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas.
They said they worked with mental health advocates and the National Rifle Association to draft the bill. In some ways, Begich said, it targets a stigma that current law places on the mentally ill by calling them “defective.” The bill would change the term to “incompetent.”
“One of the things I love about this effort is that it’s bipartisan,” Pryor added.
The announcement came on the same day state senators in Columbia heard testimony from parents of students at Ashley Hall, the private school where the police said Boland pointed a .22-caliber pistol at an official Feb. 4. She pulled the trigger, but the handgun didn’t fire.
S.C. Senate and House bills introduced last month would compel courts to report people determined to be mentally ill to the national database. Graham’s bill would outlaw the purchase of guns by people in the database.
Michel Faliero, a mother of three Ashley Hall students, urged state senators during a committee hearing Wednesday to act quickly.
The parents were greeted by Democrats, Republicans and gun advocates who, Faliero said, supported the legislation. She got the sense, she said, that the bill would pass, though certain “logistics” still need to be ironed out.
“But a lot of things can’t be accomplished on the state level,” Faliero said. “That’s why people are looking to (Graham) to solve the bigger issues with background checks.”
Fifteen of 46 members in the S.C. Senate have co-sponsored the bill. Forty-eight of 124 legislators have signed on to its companion legislation in the S.C. House.
Rep. Kris Crawford, R-Florence, dropped his support, however, because the bill would include people incapacitated by a physical illness or old age.
“I don’t have a problem with the bill in general, but it’s always in the details,” Crawford said. “You might have someone who was in a wheelchair and deemed incapacitated at some point in time. Now, they can’t buy a firearm unless they go through a process.”
Since the NICS database was created in 1998, only 34 people in South Carolina have been reported to the system as being banned from buying a firearm because of a mental illness. But Graham said Wednesday that about 13,000 people in the Palmetto State fit the description.
After she was charged with threatening to fatally shoot the president in 2005, Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The federal case eventually was dropped after she was forcefully injected with anti-psychotic medications in a prison facility, leaving her rap sheet clear of criminal convictions and her free to purchase a gun.
Begich, the Alaskan senator who helped Graham draft the federal bill, said he and others were moved by that “incredible story.” He said the measure wouldn’t stop otherwise disturbed people, such as Jared Loughner, the man who shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona two years ago because he hadn’t been involved with the court system.
But it was a chance to “make a real difference.”
“If they are turned down, it may delay them long enough where there might be some type of intervention,” he said, “that could stop them from the path they’re on.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.