Friday, February 15, 2013

Ashley Hall gun incident sparks state, national talk on gun and mental health laws

Graham and S.C. lawmakers plan legislation to stop mentally ill from buying guns

Posted by Sam Spence on Fri, Feb 15, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Boland mugshot (left), Graham at Tuesday press conference
  • Charleston County, Sen. Graham YouTube
  • Boland mugshot (left), Graham at Tuesday press conference
The failed February 4 shooting outside Ashley Hall School downtown has sparked a statewide and national discussion about who should and shouldn't be able to buy guns and what information is needed to adequately perform a background check before a person can buy a gun. Enter Linsdey Graham.

Citing the incident where 28-year old Alice Boland, a Beaufort woman with a history of mental instability, is accused of trying to fire a gun at Ashley Hall employees outside the school during pick-up time, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham stood before national reporters the morning after the State of the Union address and called the incident "exhibit A of a broken system." He also urged his colleagues to pass legislation he intended to introduce that would strengthen background checks and stop those with a history of mental instability from ever being able to buy a gun.

Federal ATF officials say Boland passed through the proper procedures for legally obtaining a pistol from a gun store in Walterboro just days before the Ashley Hall incident. She's charged with attempted murder, unlawful carrying of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

Though Boland has a well-documented history of being treated for mental illness, the lack of a courtroom conviction or institutionalization put her in the clear when she went to buy a gun. Graham said his proposals would fill that gap in the law.

Back in Graham's homestate, reform measures are also set to be introduced. Next week, a bipartisan group of South Carolina lawmakers including Republican state Attorney General Alan Wilson and Democratic Charleston state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis is expected to release a proposal that would connect state background checks to mental health records and require federal reporting of S.C. mental health records for use in the national background check database. For his part, Wilson said the Ashley Hall incident just "hit way too close to home." He added that it "could have been prevented by communicating, identifying, treating, and prohibiting persons such as the suspect in this case from legally purchasing firearms."

Chances are, any reform measures will come with plenty of strings attached. While state legislators can change South Carolina law to incorporate mental health records into background checks, the state is also in the midst of a battle to increase funding for state-sponsored mental health programs, which saw a 40 percent budget cut between 2008-2012,among the highest in the country according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Gov. Nikki Haley has proposed increased funding for the state health department in her budget proposals over the past two years, but the legislature passed additional cuts last year, and are still debating the 2013 budget.

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