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New Law Keeping Guns out of Hands of Some — but Not All — Dangerous People

March 25, 2014

By Erin Dando via The State

LmZ14.AuSt.74Some very important gun news may have been overlooked amid headlines about the new law allowing guns in bars: the announcement by the State Law Enforcement Division that 55 dangerously mentally ill South Carolinians were blocked from arming themselves, and an additional 65 dangerous people have had their concealed weapons permit revoked, thanks to an important law passed last year.

After a botched shooting attempt at Ashley Hall in Charleston, the Legislature passed — with bipartisan support — a law to close a loophole that allowed individuals declared dangerously mentally ill by a S.C. court to buy guns from licensed dealers. The law is named for Alice Boland, who passed a background check and bought a gun in Walterboro despite a history of documented mental illness that federally barred her from owning a firearm. Boland was unable to carry out her plans only because she didn’t realize the gun was locked. If it weren’t for that stroke of luck, this would have been one more of the school shootings that Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns have documented since the Newtown tragedy — now 57.

While people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, there is an important exception: those who have been deemed dangerous to themselves or others. The Ashley Hall incident did not mark the first time our system failed. The horrible 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed, could have been prevented if the shooter’s history of mental illness had been sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Before last year, South Carolina had no mechanism to submit these records for checks, so people deemed too dangerous to own guns under federal law were not denied firearms or a concealed-weapons permit after completing a state background check. What good is a background check if the right records are not in the system?

The Boland bill fixed this problem and affirms that background checks work. But despite that progress, dangerous people in South Carolina still can buy guns online or at a gun show easily, with no questions asked.

The private-sale loophole allows gun buyers to purchase firearms from an unlicensed seller without a background check. And we know that criminals are taking advantage of this loophole: A Department of Justice survey found that four out of five inmates in prison for gun charges got their guns through private sales.

I applaud our lawmakers for coming together last year to pass the Boland Bill to get the right records in the background check system. But if no one is running a background check for online and gun show sales, we’re still not doing enough to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The solution is requiring background checks for all commercial gun sales. Sixteen states have closed the private-sale loophole, and the results speak for themselves: In 2010 in those states, 38 percent fewer women were shot to death by a current or former intimate partner, 39 percent fewer law enforcement officers were killed with handguns, and firearm suicide rates were almost half those in states where the loophole remains in place.

South Carolina ranks first in the nation for the rate of women murdered by men, the majority with a gun, fourth for the rate of law enforcement officers feloniously killed with a gun and seventh deadliest for gun homicide. These are not rankings to be proud of.

It’s time for S.C. legislators to take the next step: Close the private-sale loophole, and require background checks for all commercial gun sales.

Ms. Dando, a Greenville stay-at-home mother, is the S.C. chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

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