2013-05-20 / Columns


Share mental health data

An unsuccessful attack by a person with mental problems had a silver lining. It prompted state lawmakers to enact legislation that would share mental health data with federal authorities to help curb gun violence.

Legislators began looking at ways to prevent mentally ill people from buying guns after the February arrest of Alice Boland. Police say she unsuccessfully tried to fire a handgun at officials at Ashley Hall, a private girls’ school in downtown Charleston.

No one was hurt, and police said the gun failed to fire because Boland had incorrectly loaded it. Nonetheless, it was alarming that Boland, who had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of mental incompetence to threatening to kill President George W. Bush, had been able to buy a gun.

Her plea didn’t appear in a federal background check when Boland went to buy the gun she took to Ashley Hall because South Carolina doesn’t share that information with federal authorities.

Boland now faces state and federal charges. ...

Three dozen other states do share that information with federal authorities. And now, with a bill passed by the General Assembly that Gov. Nikki Haley has promised to sign, South Carolina will join the ranks of states that cooperate in preventing gun sales to the mentally ill.

The bill has a provision that allows those who have recovered from their mental illness and no longer pose a threat to themselves or their community to regain the right to own a gun. The bill’s supporters also stress that the new law will not hinder the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns.

Boland’s case also became part of the federal debate on gun control legislation, with U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., holding it up as an example of why changes were needed in reporting information. ...

We wonder why it is so difficult for South Carolina’s congressional delegation to make the leap from supporting sensible efforts to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns to supporting sensible efforts to prevent criminals from buying guns online or at gun shows.

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