S.C. bill to tighten mentally ill reporting
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said Friday he and other law enforcement officials will urge the Legislature to improve reporting of those found mentally ill so they may not buy guns.
The bill — to be discussed in detail Tuesday in Columbia — is a direct response to news that Alice Boland of Beaufort was able buy a pistol legally, despite having pleaded not guilty by reason on insanity in federal court.
She is accused of using the gun to threaten Ashley Hall school officials earlier this month. The gun was loaded but didn’t fire.
Wilson said the bill would ensure that those who are found by South Carolina courts to be mentally ill have their names forwarded to the keepers of a federal gun registry.
Gun control has re-emerged as a national issue after the massacre of 26 teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“Newtown had this on our radar,” Wilson said, “but Ashley Hall brought it home to us.”
Currently, South Carolina is one of 12 states that doesn’t report people who are adjudicated as mentally ill to the federal firearms registry, and it’s one of six states that doesn’t have a law addressing mentally ill people buying a gun.
That would change if the bill passes as currently proposed and is signed by Gov. Nikki Haley.
Wilson and police chiefs and sheriffs from across the state worked with lawmakers on the bill, which he said has attracted by bipartisan backing.
“This should be something where Republican and Democrats and people from all ends of the spectrum will come together,” he said.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, is among the Democrats already on board.
He said both the shooter in Newtown and the person responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre would have been able to buy firearms in South Carolina because of the state’s lax reporting.
“This is a disaster waiting to happen and we are not going to wait any more,” he said. “We have a situation where we have a dramatic under-reporting problem in South Carolina.”
The bill also provides a way for people who have been deemed mentally ill to get their name cleared if their mental health improves.
Wilson said the bill attempts to balance the right to bear arms with public safety with due process and with individual’s right to privacy, particularly as far as their medical records.
Earlier this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Boland’s gun purchase an “outrage” and outlined changes he was proposing on the federal level to prohibit people who have claimed mental illness in court to buy guns.
The bill does not address those who legally own guns allowing their firearm to be obtained by a mentally ill person.
“We’re not saying this is a silver bullet or this is a cure for cancer, but this is a major step,” Wilson said. “It’s one thing we can do.”Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.