Gun bill would send SC mental health information to FBI

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Gun bill would send SC mental health information to FBI

Published Tuesday, February 19, 2013   |  738 Words  |  

Catherine Poston pulled to the curb outside of Ashley Hall school in Charleston as usual Feb. 4 to pick up her 13-year-old daughter -- not realizing a woman with a gun was milling nearby.

Poston saw children running inside the school. The only one left on the sidewalk was Alice Boland, well-dressed, talking to herself, pacing back and forth, Poston said.

"It took me a few seconds to realize that she had a gun in her hand. My brain wasn't ready to process that this could happen at our sweet little school," Poston said.

On Tuesday, Poston and two other mothers of Ashley Hall students joined state Attorney General Alan Wilson and a handful of lawmakers at the Statehouse in Columbia, touting a bill to keep guns out of the hands of people like Boland who have a court-documented record of serious mental illness.

Wilson said the bill would require state courts and agencies to send information to federal authorities about South Carolinians who have been adjudicated to have a mental-health problem. That information would be included in a national database gun retailers use to identify those prohibited from buying firearms.

It would include people like Boland, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity after she threatened to kill President George W. Bush and members of Congress in 2005.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham also is working on federal legislation expected to require similar reporting for federal courts and agencies.

It's already illegal to sell guns to people with serious histories of mental illness, Wilson said. But about a dozen states, including South Carolina, do not send that mental-health data to the federal government for inclusion in its gun database.

The result: Gun store operators do not always know when someone has a mental-health history that bans them from buying a firearm.

That's something Wilson said should change in South Carolina, particularly after the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the Ashley Hall case, in which Boland, a Lady's Island resident, pointed a gun at school officials and repeatedly pulled the trigger, according to Charleston police. The gun did not fire because there was no round in the chamber, police said.

Boland bought a handgun from a dealer several days before the incident, according to authorities, despite her insanity plea in a federal court.

Michel Faliero, a second Ashley Hall mom at Tuesday's roll-out, has replayed the Newtown shooting in her head many times, wondering what, if anything, could be done differently if her child's school had a similar event. She said she was shocked that a similar situation almost happened a short time later.

"The fact that we came so close to it has really energized us to do something about it," said Faliero, who worked with other Ashley Hall parents to draft a letter to state and federal lawmakers asking them to send more mental-health data to the federal government.

Beaufort County lawmakers say they're likely to back the bill. Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head Island, said he will be a cosponsor. Other supporters include Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort; Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton; and Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, said he is drafting a similar Senate bill that he expects to file this week.

That's good news for the Ashley Hall moms, including Anna Murray, who hope the bill will be passed before lawmakers wrap up the session in June.

"It is outrageous that anyone with that kind of history can buy a gun," Murray said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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