Republicans, Democrats, lawmen throw support behind mental health database after Ashley Hall incident

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers and law enforcement officials this morning threw their weight behind legislation to require South Carolina to report people judged to be mentally ill to a national database for firearms checks.

The bill, which was first discussed in detail Monday by state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, was drafted in response to an episode involving Alice Boland, the 28-year-old Beaufort woman who the police said bought a gun legally despite her mental illness and tried to shoot an Ashley Hall school official.

During a news conference in Columbia, Attorney General Alan Wilson, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen, Lexington Police Chief Terrence Green and a handful of legislators addressed the legislation that would amend a law guarding the privacy of mental commitment and treatment records.

It would create a database of people who have been ruled by a court to be “mentally defective” or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. The courts and the State Law Enforcement Division would be responsible for maintaining the public records, then submitting them to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The attorney general said that such a law would come at a minimal cost to the state because the system is “federally aided.”

“If this were a gun restriction, I would be against this,” Wilson said. “This is a reporting bill.”

Wilson said he had been in contact with firearms enthusiasts who support the bill. He mentioned how he was shooting at a gun range Monday, his day off. The National Rifle Association also has given its input, he said, but has not discussed its position publicly.

The group at this morning’s announcement included Stavrinakis and Rep. Eddie Tallon, R-Spartanburg, another co-sponsor.

Tallon said he had received a number of phone calls since plans for the legislation were announced. He explained to his constituents, he said, that the bill would not restrict the Second Amendment rights of people with legitimate reasons for owning a firearm.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, said he expected a companion bill in the state Senate also to garner widespread support.

Boland bought a .22-caliber pistol three days before the police said she showed up at the downtown Charleston school despite facing a felony charge in 2005 for threatening to fatally shoot the president. The charge later was dropped after Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Boland was sent to a federal prison facility for the mentally ill and was forcefully treated with anti-psychotic drugs.

Lawmakers said that the proposed bill would require the state to relay such a case to the federal database, which would have prevented Boland from buying the firearm at a gun shop. They stressed that the bill would not target people such as veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder unless a court has made a ruling of incompetence.

Instead, Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, said it would ensure that “those that are on a pathway to violence ... are prevented from ... going out and purchasing a firearm.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.


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