Begich Bill Would Define Mental Incompetence For Guns

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told the story of Alice Boland to make his case. She was charged in 2005 of threatening to kill members of Congress and then President George W. Bush.

“In 2013 this young lady, who is paranoid schizophrenic, plead not guilty by reason of insanity to kill the president of the United States,” Graham said at a Wednesday press conference. She “was admitted to a mental health treatment facility, found by a federal court to be a risk to herself and others, went to Walterboro, South Carolina in February of this year, and legally purchased a firearm.”

Boland took that gun to a school, where she was unable to fire a shot.

Senator Graham labeled Boland one of the 14,000 in his state who have been through federal courts, or other adjudicative bodies, and yet managed to pass federal background checks.

Senator Begich said he does not know how many people fit that qualification in Alaska, but he estimated the number to be in the thousands.

“Dangerous people can fall through the cracks in part because the background check system lacks a clear definition of mentally incompetent,” he said.

The bill defines who would be barred from owning a gun because of mental illness: people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, people who have been involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals, people who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial in a criminal case.

The seemingly noncontroversial bill does not address universal background checks. That’s something Senator Begich said gives him heartburn; he said it’s unrealistic to require background checks in remote villages.

Both Senator Graham and Begich oppose an assault weapons ban. So does Senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas and cosponsor of this new bill.  And Jeff Flake, the final cosponsor, said he’d have a hard time supporting a new ban.

Senator Begich said they’re trying to move legislation lawmakers can agree on.

“We’re finding a piece of the puzzle that you can get a fairly strong bipartisan support on. We don’t want to get caught up on all the other issues, but let’s try to move forward and make some difference,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

Those other issues, like the assault weapons ban, will get their time in the spotlight Thursday morning when the Senate Judiciary Committee marks them up.

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