CHARLESTON, S.C. — A Republican U.S. senator introduced bipartisan gun background check legislation on Wednesday that would make it harder for mentally ill people who are considered to be dangerous to buy a firearm.
The legislation proposed by Lindsey Graham would require reporting of certain mental illness treatments and legal proceedings to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the clearinghouse for all new gun purchases.
Those cases would include anyone found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity or anyone who received involuntary outpatient treatment from a psychiatric hospital.
Graham cited a recent case in his state of South Carolina as a key example of the failures of the current background check system and the need for reform.
Last month, a woman who had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity after being indicted in 2005 for threatening to kill President George W. Bush tried to fire a gun at faculty members at a private girls school in Charleston.
Senate panel passes bill seeking to curb illegal gun purchases
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday backed President Barack Obama's call to crack down on illegal trafficking of firearms, marking the first votes in Congress on gun-control since a school massacre last year prompted calls for action.
On a largely party-line vote of 11-7, the Democratic-led committee approved a bill to make it a federal crime to engage in "straw purchasing," or buying of guns on behalf of those who are prohibited from owning them.
"It is designed to prevent criminals from using straw purchasers who can pass a background check and then hand those firearms to criminals," Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said. The bill imposes a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Republican critics of the bill argued the measure was not needed, saying existing laws were adequate. They also warned it could send someone to jail even if they did not know the ultimate buyer was not permitted to own a gun.
Alice Boland, 28, was allowed to buy the gun even though a court in the 2005 case declared her legally insane and a substantial risk to others and ordered anti-psychotic drugs and long-term psychiatric care, which she received, Graham said.
Boland, who has paranoid schizophrenia, aimed the gun at faculty members at Ashley Hall School and repeatedly pulled the trigger, authorities have said. Although it was loaded, the gun did not fire.
President Bush's mother, Barbara Bush, attended Ashley Hall.
Boland has been charged with attempted murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime. She is due in court for a preliminary hearing on March 14 and has not entered a plea.
"The Alice Boland case is 'Exhibit A' of a broken background check system," Graham said on Wednesday. "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."
Graham said the legislation would ensure that those who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others cannot legally obtain a firearm.
"There is a lot of emotion around the gun violence issue, but I am hopeful this is one area where we can find tremendous bipartisan support to fix what I think is a gaping gap in our law," Graham said.
The U.S. Senate is considering several other gun-control bills, including a controversial proposal that seeks to revive the federal ban on the sale of assault weapons that was in effect for a decade before expiring in 2004.
Another bill would require criminal and mental health background checks of all gun buyers. The debate over gun control has heated up since a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in December.
The legislation introduced by Graham is co-sponsored by Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democrats Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
The four senators said their proposal contains provisions to allow people who have recovered from their mental illness to have their Second Amendment rights restored.
The bill "strengthens the background check system while protecting both gun and mental health rights," Begich said.