While headlines in the gun debate have been dominated by news that guns are now allowed in bars and restaurants serving alcohol, some very important news may have been overlooked: the announcement by the State Law Enforcement Division that 55 dangerously mentally ill South Carolinians were blocked from arming themselves, and an additional 65 dangerous people have had their Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) revoked thanks to an important law passed last year.
After a botched shooting at Ashley Hall in Charleston, the legislature passed - with bipartisan support - the Boland Bill to close a loophole that allowed individuals declared dangerously mentally ill by a South Carolina court to buy guns from licensed dealers.
The law is named for Alice Boland, who passed a background check and bought a gun in Walterboro despite a history of documented mental illness that federally barred her from owning a firearm. Days later, Boland brought the gun to the school and, according to police, was unable to fire it only because she didn't realize the gun was locked.
If not for that stroke of luck, it could have been yet another tragedy. Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have documented 57 school shootings since the Newtown tragedy.
While people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it, there is an important distinction when someone has been deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
The Ashley Hall incident wasn't the first time our system failed. The horrible 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed, could have been prevented if the shooter's history of mental illness had been sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
South Carolina previously had no mechanism to submit these records, so people deemed too dangerous to own guns according to federal law were not denied firearms or a CWP after completing a background check.
What good is a background check if the right records are not in the system?
The Boland Bill fixed this problem and affirms that background checks work - but despite that progress, dangerous people in South Carolina can still buy guns online or at a gun show easily, with no questions asked.
The private sale loophole allows gun buyers to purchase firearms without a background check if the gun is sold by an unlicensed seller.
And we know that criminals are taking advantage of this loophole - a Department of Justice survey found that four out of five inmates in prison for gun charges got their guns through private sales.
I applaud our lawmakers for coming together last year to pass the Boland Bill to get the right records in the background check system - but if no one is running a background check in the first place for online and gun show sales, we're still not doing enough to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
The solution is requiring background checks for all commercial gun sales.
Sixteen states have closed the private sale loophole, and the results speak for themselves - in 2010 in those states, 38 percent fewer women were shot to death by a current or former intimate partner, 39 percent fewer law enforcement officers were killed with handguns, and firearm suicide rates were almost half those in states where the loophole remains in place.
South Carolina ranks first in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men, the majority with a gun, fourth for the rate of law enforcement officers feloniously killed with a gun, and seventh deadliest in the nation for gun homicide.
These are not rankings to be proud of.
It's time for South Carolina legislators to take the next step: Close the private sale loophole and require background checks for all commercial gun sales.
Erin Dando is the South Carolina Chapter Leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Notice about comments:
The Post and Courier is pleased to offer readers the enhanced ability to comment on stories. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point.