Sen. Graham outlines plan to prevent mentally ill from buying guns

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Lindsey Graham has joined fellow Senators Mark Begich, Jeff Flake and Mark Pryor in introducing legislation to clarify circumstances under which a person loses the right to receive or possess firearms based on mental illness.

The impetus for the legislation can be traced to the recent incident involving Alice Boland, a 28-year-old woman with documented mental health issues who allegedly attempted to kill a school official with a handgun in early February outside Ashley Hall, a private, all-girls' school in downtown Charleston.

In the legislation titled NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013, the senators note that under current law certain mental incompetency adjudications are not required to be reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is the clearinghouse for all new gun purchases.

The proposed law applies to individuals whose cases are determined by an adjuctive body, such as a federal court, to be:

  • an imminent danger to themselves or others
  • found guilty but mentally ill in a criminal case
  • was not guilty in a criminal case by reason of insanity or mental disease or defect
  • was incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case
  • was not guilty only by reason of lack of mental responsibility under the Uniform Code of Military Justice
  • required involuntary inpatient treatment by a psychiatric hospital
  • required involuntary outpatient treatment by a psychiatric hospital based on a finding that the person is an imminent danger to himself or to others
  • required involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital for any reason including drug use

Boland, despite being previously diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and having faced federal charges for threatening to kill President George W. Bush and "the entire Congress," was able to legally purchase a .22 caliber handgun in Walterboro two days before the incident on Feb. 4.

The federal charges were dismissed in 2009, four years after she pleaded not guilty on the reason of insanity.

"The Alice Boland case is 'Exhibit A' of a broken background check system," said Graham.  "An individual who pleads 'Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity' should not be able to pass a federal background check and legally purchase a gun. As astonishing as it sounds, that actually happened. Our bill addresses the Boland case, and other similar instances, to ensure that those who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others aren't legally able to obtain a firearm. I would expect overwhelming bipartisan support for our legislation."

"I'm pleased that we have been able to bring together unlikely allies from outside the building and produce a common-sense, bipartisan bill that will help keep our communities safe while protecting our Second Amendment rights," Begich said. "I have worked side by side with both the NRA and the mental health community to ensure that this bill will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people without stigmatizing the mentally ill or taking away individual rights. I hope today's announcement serves as a reminder that if we roll up our sleeves and work together, we can still get things done around here."

"We must strengthen the reporting process of mental health records so that those who should not have access to guns are barred from purchasing them," said Flake. "Ensuring that more of these records are integrated into NICS will significantly improve the background check process."

"I'm a strong supporter of 2nd amendment rights. That said, it's evident that our background check system needs some improvements," Pryor said. "Our bipartisan, common-sense bill will update the system, and ensure individuals who have been deemed "mentally incompetent" are not able to pass a background check and purchase firearms."

The senators also note the act contains provisions to ensure Second Amendment rights are returned to individuals after they have recovered from their mental illness. The legislation also does not apply to persons in a mental institution for observation or those who voluntarily admit themselves to a psychiatric hospital.

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