South Carolina will join a growing list of states considering gun laws targeting the mentally ill since the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
But it was a narrowly avoided tragedy here in the Palmetto State that helped prod officials to act.
Attorney General Alan Wilson said Thursday that the Connecticut slayings hit “way too close to home” on Feb. 4, when a woman was accused of trying to shoot an Ashley Hall school official in downtown Charleston as students milled about.
Wilson voiced support for legislation that would stop mentally disturbed people from buying firearms. He will discuss its provisions Tuesday during a news conference with Reps. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, and Rick Quinn, R-Lexington. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, is expected to co-sponsor the bill.
South Carolina is one of six states with no gun-buying barriers for the mentally ill, Wilson said. But the incident at Ashley Hall “highlighted” a fault in state and federal laws for not linking mental health and gun violence, he said.
Alice Boland, a 28-year-old Beaufort woman with a history of mental illness, pointed a loaded gun at a school official and pulled the trigger, according to police. The gun didn’t go off because no round was in the chamber.
Boland had purchased the .22-caliber pistol three days earlier in Walterboro and did so legally, despite facing a felony charge in 2005 for threatening to kill President George W. Bush. The count later was dropped after she pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Boland, according to federal court documents, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was forcefully injected with drugs, but a court had never made the necessary ruling to prevent her from buying a gun.
In a statement, the attorney general said the incident “could have been prevented by communicating, identifying, treating and prohibiting persons such as the suspect in this case from legally purchasing firearms.”
More than a half-dozen states already are considering legislation on mental health. A New York bill was signed into law last month that requires doctors to warn authorities of potentially dangerous patients.
Wilson warned against taking firearms from law-abiding citizens.
“(Boland) should never have been able to purchase a gun; however, she did,” Wilson said. “That is why her story highlights the need for mental health reform, not overreaching gun control.”
Wilson’s announcement came a day after U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., cited the Ashley Hall incident as the impetus for a planned gun bill regarding people who avoid criminal convictions by claiming insanity.
Boland’s case is scheduled to be discussed during a preliminary court hearing Feb. 28.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.