Guns: The South’s loaded is­sue

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER

When Pres­i­dent Obama said in his State of the Union ad­dress that “this time is dif­fer­ent,” re­fer­ring to his push for tighter gun­con­trol laws, he wasn’t just whistling Dixie.

An­a­lysts seek­ing in­sight into the gun de­bate need look no fur­ther than the land of cot­ton, where noth­ing is ever for­got­ten. In a mat­ter of days, ci­ti­zens and law­mak­ers on both sides of the gun is­sue have ad­vanced laws to:

Al­low con­cealed weapons to be car­ried in bars and restau­rants;

Make it le­gal to pur­chase or own any weapon that could have been ac­quired legally at the end of 2012; and

Strengthen back­ground checks to iden­tify peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness.

The lat­ter is the most se­ri­ous of the batch and fol­lows a re­cent near-tragedy at Ash­ley Hall, a pri­vate girls school in Charleston, S.C., where Bar­bara Bush, among other no­ta­bles, was once a stu­dent. Sev­eral days ago, a woman with a long record of men­tal in­sta­bil­ity, in­clud­ing a 2005 court plea of not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity, brought a loaded semi­au­to­matic pis­tol to the school and pulled the trig­ger sev­eral times while point­ing the gun at a school ad­min­is­tra­tor.

For­tu­nately, the gun never fired, and Alice Boland, 28, was un­able to com­plete her mis­sion. What ex­actly that was isn’t eas­ily dis­cerned from her bond hear­ing rant, which cov­ered a di­verse col­lec­tion of com­plaints:

“I wanted to make a po­lit­i­cal demon­stra­tion about prob­lems in my life re­lat­ing to the fact that racist fem­i­nists, in­clud­ing in­sti­tu­tions like that where I was demon­strat­ing . . . have been caus­ing me th­ese al­leged men­tal prob­lems ever since I met a les­bian pro­fes­sor,” said Boland. Check. This was not her first visit to Ash­ley Hall, which is lo­cated near her psy­chol­o­gist’s of­fice. Boland prompted a call to po­lice two years ago when she re­port­edly was seen “ha­rass­ing chil­dren and act­ing very sus­pi­cious,” ac­cord­ing to a Charleston po­lice of­fi­cer. This time, she brought a Taurus PT-22 pis­tol she had pur­chased a few days ear­lier, de­spite a men­tal-health record that, in a ra­tio­nal world, would have blocked the sale.

The woman her­self said she was crazy, yet she’s sane enough to buy a gun?

More than 50 Ash­ley Hall par­ents have signed a let­ter sent to a dozen state and fed­eral of­fi­cials urg­ing ac­tion to pre­vent peo­ple such as Boland from ac­quir­ing firearms. Boland man­aged to an­swer ques­tions on a fed­eral ques­tion­naire ad­e­quately to pur­chase the gun. And be­cause she has no crim­i­nal record, her name wasn’t flagged dur­ing a rou­tine back­ground check.

Laws gov­ern­ing doc­tor-pa­tient pri­vacy pro­hibit dis­clo­sure of men­tal­health is­sues — as any who have sought psy­cho­log­i­cal coun­sel­ing would have it.

But Boland had an­other record that clearly should have dis­qual­i­fied her from gun own­er­ship. Never mind an ear­lier di­ag­no­sis of para­noid schizophre­nia. She also had faced fed­eral charges for threat­en­ing to kill Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush and “the en­tire U.S. Congress.” Her plea of not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity inar­guably should have placed her in a data­base of those in­el­i­gi­ble to pur­chase firearms. But be­cause her charges were dis­missed in 2009, she had no crim­i­nal record.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, speak­ing in Washington on Wed­nes­day, la­beled the Ash­ley Hall case Ex­hibit A of a “bro­ken sys­tem” and has vowed to in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion that would en­hance the back­ground check process to in­clude “prior ex­po­sure to court and . . . men­tal sta­tus.”

Mean­while, state of­fi­cials back home in Columbia were busy fig­ur­ing out ways to skirt any new laws that might re­strict gun own­er­ship.

Cit­ing an 1881 “un­or­ga­nized mili­tia” state law, state Sen. Tom Corbin (R) pro­posed leg­is­la­tion guar­an­tee­ing ev­ery­one’s right to own any weapon that could be pur­chased legally as of Dec. 31, 2012. Corbin’s claim that fed­eral law could not pre­empt South Carolina law — in ad­di­tion to be­ing in­cor­rect; fed­eral law trumps state law — was rather dra­mat­i­cally dis­proved dur­ing the un­pleas­ant­ness of 1861- 65.

In other ac­tion, a state Se­nate panel ap­proved a bill to al­low con­cealed weapons in restau­rants and bars so long as the car­ri­ers don’t drink. Not­ing the volatil­ity of mix­ing guns and al­co­hol, some sug­gested that busi­ness own­ers could post signs ban­ning guns in their es­tab­lish­ments. But one speaker called that “un-Amer­i­can.” An­other in­sisted that he should be al­lowed to have a glass of wine with his lasagna while pack­ing heat.

So it goes in the state that James L. Peti­gru, anti-se­ces­sion­ist and former South Carolina at­tor­ney gen­eral, long ago de­scribed as “too small to be a repub­lic and too large to be an in­sane asy­lum.”

It re­mains to be seen if this time is dif­fer­ent.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.