COLUMBIA — Sharing some information for background checks about people determined by courts to be mentally ill would make South Carolina safer, the state’s top prosecutor said Tuesday.
Flanked by state lawmakers and law enforcement officials, Attorney General Alan Wilson said he supports a bill that would require the state to give federal authorities information about people who have been adjudicated to have mental health problems.
It’s already illegal to sell guns to people with known mental illness, Wilson said. While 38 states already share some information with the federal government for background check purposes through the National Crime Information Center, other have been allowed to opt out of reporting.
That’s something Wilson said should change in South Carolina, particularly in light of events such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“This is not a gun restriction law,” said Wilson, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. “It is nothing more than a gun reporting law.”
The Republican said he was also inspired to take on the issue by the recent arrest of a woman accused of trying to shoot an official at a Charleston school.
Earlier this month, authorities say Alice Boland, 28, bought a handgun from a dealer days before she was arrested on an attempted murder charge. Boland bought the gun despite her 2005 plea of not guilty by reason of mental incompetence to threatening to kill President George W. Bush. As a result of her plea, Boland – who federal court records note has disorders including schizophrenia – was ordered to get mental health treatment, but authorities say nothing explicitly barred her from being able to buy a gun in South Carolina.
“There was no flag,” Wilson said. “The gun dealer in Charleston is blame-free. They couldn’t have known.”
Last week, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham cited Boland’s case and called for changes in reporting requirements and said he would introduce federal legislation to that effect. Graham suggested that the check system be made stronger by ensuring information about people with court histories such as Boland’s is included in federal databases.
“Long story short, someone who pled not guilty by reason of insanity … passed a background check to buy a weapon legally in South Carolina,” Graham said. “To me, this is Exhibit A of a broken system.”
Guns and school safety are the focus of several bills introduced during South Carolina’s legislative session.
Different proposals would fund police officers for all of the state’s public schools, allow school employees with concealed weapons permits to carry guns on campus.