COLUMBIA — A bill designed to prevent residents deemed mentally ill from buying guns advanced in the House on Thursday, six weeks after a botched shooting at a Charleston school drew attention to a loophole in reporting.
The measure heading to the Judiciary Committee ensures the names of those determined mentally insane by a South Carolina court are put into a federal database for purposes of background checks for gun purchases.
“This is a public safety reporting bill,” said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston.
“It takes the existing prohibition and addresses the fact that we have a glaring loophole.”
It’s illegal to sell guns to someone who is mentally ill, but the lack of reporting means gun shops don’t get that information when they run a check.
Last month, authorities charged a 28-year-old woman with trying to fire a handgun at employees of Ashley Hall girls’ school during a busy afternoon carpool pickup. No one was hurt because she had loaded the gun incorrectly. Court records showed her disorders include schizophrenia and Asperger’s syndrome.
“Our teachers and children’s classmates came within a breath of dying,” Ashley Hall parent Ana Murray said. Saying she’s a gun supporter, Murray called the measure simple and reasonable.
The bill’s passage in the gun-friendly House appears certain. Its 49 co-sponsors of both parties include House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Judiciary Chairman Greg Delleney, and it’s advocated by Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson.
“This is not a gun bill. It’s a mental health registry bill,” Wilson spokesman Adam Piper said.
Forty-six other states already report such data to the National Crime Information Center, said a spokeswoman for the State Law Enforcement Division.
The agency is connected to the federal system. It’s just a matter of getting the information from the courts to report, according to the agency.
Jeff Moore, the director of the state Sheriffs’ Association, said the law is needed because local judges fear they don’t have authority to give the information to SLED. The only county consistently reporting the court findings is Richland County, based on one judge’s more liberal interpretation of the law, he said.
The bill specifies the data can be used only for purposes of the instant background check for gun purchases. It also allows those deemed to have recovered from their mental illness to petition the court to remove their disqualification.