AG: Boland bill 'not a silver bullet,' but a big step forward

Rep. Andy Patrick

By Sam

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and law enforcement leaders on Tuesday unveiled a legislative package aimed at addressing gun violence and mental health.The bill, expected to be filed in the House sometime this week, is being touted by a bipartisan group of legislators and law enforcement officials as the closure of a loophole between an existing law and a reporting mechanism. Wilson called the incident outside Ashley Hall School in Charleston on Feb. 4 a near miss. That's when police say 28-year-old Alice Boland showed up at the school with a loaded handgun. She allegedly pointed the gun at two administrators and repeatedly pulled the trigger. An investigation into Boland's background revealed that she had been adjudicated by a federal court and a probate court in South Carolina, but was able to purchase a gun several days before the incident because there was no report filed to NICS."I don't want to wait for an actual tragedy to close a loophole on reporting," he said. Wilson said Tuesday that it has been illegal in South Carolina for someone who has been adjudicated as mentally ill to buy a firearm. The problem comes in sharing that information - South Carolina does not currently report those names to any kind of database that would help gun shops prevent certain people from buying firearms. The bill gives the State Law Enforcement Division the ability to report those names. "This is not a gun restriction law. This is nothing more than a reporting law," Wilson said. There are currently 38 states reporting to the federal database, the National Instant Criminal Background System. Wilson and lawmakers, including Reps. Leon Stavrinakis, Andy Patrick, Rick Quinn and Eddie Tallon and Sens. Greg Hembry and Chip Campsen, hope to make the state the 39th to report to NICS. That means, however, the state has to clear four hurdles, according to Wilson. The law has to protect citizens' Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights, medical privacy rights outlines by HIPAA and the right of the state to protect citizens. Wilson echoed Stavrinakis' comments from a day earlier; saying the use of public records of adjudicated citizens to identify them for a gun database is not a violation of HIPAA.But he said the law would not strip away the Second Amendment rights of people who do have the right to buy and own guns. "This does not mean if you are a veteran with PTSD, you will be put in the database," Wilson said. Stavrinakis said he had been in touch with Campsen, who would be introducing a companion bill in the Senate. "This is not a political issue. This is a law enforcement public safety issue," Stavrinakis said. "Unfortunately, in South Carolina we don't have that system in place right now."Tallon said he had received several calls since the bill's announcement from people voicing their concerns that the bill was limiting gun owners' rights. He said this would not stop people with the legal authority to own a gun from doing so - this bill is aimed only at reporting those who shouldn't."We don't need to wait for the gun to work one day before we take this step," Stavrinakis said. While the focus Tuesday was on the loophole to prevent certain people from being able to buy guns legally because of poor reporting standards, lawmakers acknowledged that the bill is not a complete solution."This is not a silver bullet," Wilson said.But he thinks this is a step in the right direction for the state, and a step in a direction that everyone can support. "I don't understand how any rational, reasonable person would be against reporting that [information] to an already existing database," he said, adding that if the loophole had been close before Feb. 1, Alice Boland would have been stopped at the gun shop in Walterboro.The National Rifle Association has been discussing the legislation with lawmakers since its inception, Wilson said, but the group has not issued any public statements on the current draft. "This is exactly the discussion we should be having," said Patrick. "How do we connect the dots?"Patrick said leaders saw the tragedies unfold in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., and Tucson, Ariz., and collected information about those shootings, but did not connect them. He said the bill being filed this week would connect those dots [between mental health and gun violence]. Both bodies of the General Assembly are making a concerted push to move the bill through the House and Senate and get the bill to the governor's desk. {}However, Gov. Nikki Haley has stayed mostly quiet on the issue of connecting the state's known adjudicated citizens to the NICS. She said last week she thought more focus needed to be on helping the mentally ill instead of enhancing background checks and cataloging the mentally ill in a state or federal database. An NICS representative said Tuesday that they would decline comment on the draft of the bill.Boland, who is still being held in the Al Cannon Detention Center on a $900,000 bond, is slated to be in court at the end of the month.