By Sam Tysonstyson@abcnews4.com
WASHINGTON (WCIV) - Sen. Lindsey Graham responded to President Barack Obama's push during the State of the Union for reformed and stronger gun laws by bringing up the case of 28-year-old Alice Boland.
"Long story short, someone who pled not guilty by reason of insanity passed a background check to buy a firearm in South Carolina," he said, pointing to a huge poster board with Boland's picture and key facts of the case. "This is Exhibit A of a broken system."
Graham read through Boland's troubled history, from her threats against then-President George W. Bush in a Montreal airport that she repeated to Secret Service agents a month later in her Beaufort home to the most recent incident at Ashley Hall School, where police say she pointed a loaded gun at school administrators and pulled the trigger repeatedly.
The gun did not have a round in the chamber. Police later said the only thing that prevented the gun from firing was Boland's ignorance of how to use a firearm.
"She is deeply, deeply mentally troubled," Graham said. "She's a very sick young lady."
Graham used the Boland case to bring up the state of existing gun laws in the U.S., laws he described as broken and failing. He said police investigators found a copy of a federal firearms questionnaire in Boland's car last week. The regional director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said there was "nothing illegal" about Boland's purchase.
"This to me is an outrage and it could have resulted in tragedy," Graham said. "I'm just astonished. Is he wrong?"
In response, Graham said he was going to be introducing legislation that would stop "people like (Alice Boland)" from getting a gun.
Graham said his bill would focus more on bolstering existing laws that would boost the number of prosecutions. Graham said that 80,000 people failed a background check last year and only 44 of them were prosecuted. He said with so few prosecutions happening, the law is no longer a deterrent to criminals.
"My advice to Congress is this: Instead of expanding the background check, let's fund a way to stop a person who threatens the president from getting a gun," he said. "Let's find a way to make sure Alice Boland will never get a gun."
Graham said the Boland case was opening his eyes to the problems of existing gun laws in the U.S., saying he had no idea that pleading not guilty by reason of insanity is not grounds to disqualify a person from purchasing a gun. He said the entire system broke down when Boland was able to buy a gun.
He said the Boland case was an opportunity for Congress to "dig in" to the gun control debate and find solutions, adding that another assault weapons ban or expanding background checks are not the answers.
"I've owned guns all my life. Me owning an AR-15 is not a threat to anyone," Graham said. "But a mentally unstable person should not get one bullet."
Graham acknowledged that focusing on stopping people with mental health issues is a slippery slope that is in conflict with medical privacy laws, but did not go into specifics on how his bill would bridge the gap between public safety and medical privacy.
"Therein is the trick. How do we deny people who are mentally unstable the ability to buy a gun?" he asked. "If you plead not guilty by reason of insanity, that's a case where we need to fix the system."
In Obama's address Tuesday night, he invoked the shootings in Aurora, Colo., Newtown, Conn., and of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords when he urged Congress to put a bill on the floor and vote.
The Obama administration has pushed for stronger gun laws and a renewed assault weapons ban, including an AR-15, the gun police say was used in the Newtown shootings that killed 26 people at an elementary school.
Graham called the president a cheerleader for new gun laws, saying that was not the answer. He said enforcing the existing laws would be a better response to the string of deadly shootings.
"For god's sake, let's make sure Alice Boland never gets a gun," he said. "Let's all agree we can do a better job of enforcing existing laws."
Boland is still being held in the Al Cannon Detention Center on a $900,000 bond. She has been assigned a public defender, but the attorney has not commented publicly on the case.