By Mary Orndorff Troyan, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - People declared mentally incompetent by a federal court would be added to a national criminal database and blocked from buying a gun under legislation introduced Wednesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham and others.
The South Carolina Republican, who opposes most gun control proposals pending on Capitol Hill, said allowing people with a severe and legally documented mental illness to buy a gun is a loophole that needs to be closed.
The legislation was inspired by a recent case in South Carolina, where a woman who pleaded guilty by reason of insanity to threatening to kill the president was able to pass a background check and buy a pistol eight years later. She tried unsuccessfully to shoot people at a private school in Charleston last month.
Graham announced the bill at a Capitol Hill press conference along with Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a bipartisan coalition that improves the proposal's chances of becoming law.
"We're trying to fix a problem that most people in America would be astonished exists," Graham said. "There is lot of emotion around the gun violence issue but I'm hopeful this is one area where we can find tremendous bipartisan support."
The bill would apply to:
- People found by a judge, court, board or commission to present an imminent danger to themselves or others.
- Criminal defendants who have been found guilty and mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial.
- People who have required involuntary inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital.
Those meeting at least one of those standards would have their names added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
Begich said the bill tries to respect the rights of the mentally ill and provides a clearer definition of mental incompetence. It does not include people who were voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital or were there just for observation. And it allows for people who regain their mental health to be removed from the database, he said.
The National Rifle Association has endorsed the bill.
"This bill will create accurate definitions of those who pose serious threats and should be barred from the ability to buy or possess a firearm, while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens and veterans," said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.
The legislation would not compel state officials to compile or report information on people declared mentally incompetent in state courts. Some, but not all, states report the data already.
In South Carolina, lawmakers are working on legislation to collect the data from state agencies and add it to the federal database. Graham said it would apply to about 14,000 people in the state, and he encouraged states to report the data.