State gun law pays off

State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, surrounded by parents and students of Ashley Hall on March 18, 2013, annouces pending legislation that will mandate those found mentally ill be placed in a database. (Brad Nettles/File)

Last year, Alice Boland made headlines when, according to police, she pointed a pistol at an Ashley Hall school administrator and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, she didn't load the gun correctly and it failed to fire a shot.

It was shocking that someone who had been found mentally incompetent and ordered to undergo treatment for schizophrenia after threatening to kill the president had been able to buy a gun.

Even more shocking, now we're finding out that it might not have been so uncommon.

After the incident on Rutledge Avenue, the General Assembly wisely passed a bill, which Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law, requiring state probate courts to report the names of all individuals adjudicated mentally ill dating back 10 years previously. That has amounted to about 46,000 people.

And as a result of the FBI putting that information in its database, 136 firearms purchases were blocked in South Carolina. In addition, more than 100 concealed weapons permits were revoked.

The FBI began collecting the data in 1998 and using them to identify people who are barred from buying firearms.

Before Ms. Boland was arrested on four federal charges connected to the incident, South Carolina was one of the states that opted not to submit the names of those adjudicated as mentally ill. Now it does.

And it has paid off.

Plenty of would-be gun purchasers are stopped because the FBI background checks reveal them to be convicted felons, fugitives or domestic violence offenders. And clearly, those whom a court finds mentally ill don't need guns either.

Erin Dando, who heads the South Carolina chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told our reporter that the state is to be commended and should serve as a model for other states that haven't begun submitting mental health records.

It's a pity it took a near tragedy for South Carolina to pass such legislation.

It was in 1993 that the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requiring background checks and a five-day waiting period for purchases of handguns from federally licensed dealers was passed. It was named for and promoted by James Brady, press secretary to Ronald Reagan, who was shot and permanently disabled during a 1981 assassination attempt on the president. The shooter, John Hinckley Jr., was found not guilty of the crime by reason of insanity. Mr. Brady, who died last week, suffered from the wounds he received in 1981 for the rest of his life.

Like the troubling Alice Boland story, Mr. Brady's ordeal reminds us why people who are mentally ill shouldn't own guns - and more generally, why the nation needs stronger gun laws.