S.C. parents push bill to share mental health info for gun purchase databases

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COLUMBIA — Parents from a Charleston school that authorities say was the scene of a failed shooting told state lawmakers on Wednesday that a new proposal could keep South Carolina safer.

“This is pretty easy,” Michel Faliero told a state Senate subcommittee. “Everyone seem to agree. ... In South Carolina, this little piece of it can be done quickly.”

Faliero and several other parents said they supported a proposal that would give federal authorities information about people who have been determined by a court to have mental health problems for use in gun purchase background checks. It’s already illegal to sell guns to people with known mental illness, but South Carolina and several other states don’t share mental health information with federal authorities.

Faliero represents a group of parents of students at Ashley Hall, a private girls’ school in downtown Charleston. Last month, authorities say, Alice Boland, 28, was charged with attempted murder after she tried to fire a handgun at several school employees during busy afternoon carpool pickup at the school.

No one was hurt, but police have said that Boland likely could have shot several people, had she not loaded the gun incorrectly. Court records list no attorney for Boland, who is still in jail.

Boland bought the gun several days before her arrest despite her 2005 plea of not guilty by reason of mental incompetence to threatening to kill President George W. Bush at a Canadian airport. As a result of her plea, Boland — who federal court records say has disorders including schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome — was ordered to get mental health treatment and evaluations, but authorities say nothing explicitly barred her from being able to buy a gun in South Carolina.

Last month, lawmakers in both chambers introduced bills aimed at sharing South Carolina’s data with federal authorities who maintain the databases against which background checks are run when someone buys a gun. State Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, has been quick to say the bill isn’t meant to restrict guns rights but instead aims to bring the state in line with reporting standards.

Several lawmakers on the subcommittee said they supported the measure but wanted to ensure that it didn’t necessarily send information on people in treatment for alcohol or dementia to the database. Jeff Moore of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association said a proposed amendment would make that clear.

“We did dodge a terrible tragedy a month ago at Ashley Hall,” Moore said. “I think it was just plain dumb luck that Alice Boland didn’t know how to load the weapon.”

The panel took no vote Wednesday. Sen. Chauncey Gregory, R-Lancaster, said he wanted more opportunities to take testimony and hash out proposed changes before voting, likely in a few weeks.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has repeatedly referred to Boland’s case as an example of the need for legislation addressing mental illness and gun sales. On Wednesday, Graham’s office said the South Carolina Republican planned to introduce such a bill.


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