Courts sending mental records intended to make gun checks safer

By Stacy

WALTERBORO, S.C. (WCIV) -- The clock is quickly running out for county courts to submit mental health records from the last decade to state police to comply with the provisions of the Boland Bill.

In accordance with the law passed in 2013, courts must submit mental health records to the State Law Enforcement Division. The records show people who have been deemed mentally ill in a county probate court over the last 10 years.

Colleton County probate Judge Ashley Amundson explained the laborious process of going back through a decade of records.

She's read 2,500 cases and said Colleton County submitted around 570 documents of patients declared mentally ill under the law.

"It took hundreds of hours not only in going through records at this court, but also participating on a state level with coming up with how to comply with this law," Amundson said. "From the time it was discussed after the Alice Boland incident, we as probate judges were discussing how to make sure this information did get collected and shared."

Last year, she said Colleton County installed an electronic server that shared the records directly with SLED. Officials from most other counties in the Lowcountry, including Charleston, Berkeley, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties, said they fax or mail the records to SLED.

"The computerized system of sharing has been beneficial for us. It's easy. You can scan it in and get confirmation on a daily basis from SLED saying they received it. That's nice, getting confirmation you don't get if you mail or fax. And then you don't have to waste paper or postage," Amundson said.

Amundson, who has served as Colleton County's probate judge since 2011, also said she understood why other counties could struggle to meet the August submission deadline.

Though, Colleton County did not have an issue.

"I've spoken with judges from other counties who have a larger caseload. The number of documents they have to review is much larger. They don't have enough staff to take on additional responsibility in a short time," Amundson said.

South Carolina's probate judges met around 10 times last year to create the form for information submission to SLED, Amundson said. Judges only included patients' basic information, she said.

"We came up with some forms that were acceptable to both SLED and the judges. So SLED got the information they needed, but we weren't giving diagnosis or specific medical information," she said.

SLED shares the names with the FBI for use in gun background checks.

Officials said the law would have stopped Alice Boland from purchasing a gun at the Walterboro Gun Shop and attempting to shoot an employee at the Ashley Hall School.

Amundson called it "gratifying" to be a part of progress.

"I was at a meeting recently and a SLED spokesperson was there. She indicated several gun permits had been denied based on the information we had been sharing," she said.

According to a SLED spokesman, 596 people have been denied gun permits in 2014. Of those denials, 29 have been as a result of the new reporting system.

According to the law, people who have been committed can petition the court to reinstate their gun rights. The judge said she and her colleagues expected an increase in such hearings.

Probate courts have until Aug. 3 to report all mental health records of people who have been adjudicated mentally ill since 2003.

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