A narrowly divided South Dakota House committee has rejected a bill that sought to keep guns out of the hands of people found to be mentally ill and a danger to others.
The Health and Human Services Committee voted 7-5 to defeat the measure.
The bill sought to prevent people from buying or possessing guns if they had been involuntarily committed for mental illness treatment and found to be a danger to others.
The measure's main sponsor, House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton, says the names of those people would have been sent to a national database that is checked when someone seeks to buy a gun. He says many other states already send that information to the national database.
Opponents say the measure would not make society safer.
Pennington County has issued twice the number of pistol permits to date compared to this time last year.
And while all applicants are screened for felonies; there's no way to know if someone suffers from a potentially dangerous mental illness.
A bill in the legislature could change that if it can pass the first hurdle.
While it won't prevent tragedies such as Sandy Hook, lawmakers say House Bill 1188 is a step in the right direction.
"With personal freedoms, come some responsibilities. And I think that certainly is at the heart and soul of this particular bill," said Senator Mark Kirkeby, (R) District 35.
South Dakota is one of only a handful of states that doesn't enter mental health commitments into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. And HB 1188 looks to fix that.
"The idea is to get one central repository so if I query that when before I issue a pistol permit I can tell if somebody in another part of the state has been previously committed or not. Right now I'm just limited to Pennington County's information," said Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom.
Kirkeby, a sponsor of the bill, said it proposes to revoke a mentally ill person's right to own a gun if they are deemed "dangerous".
"There has to be some accountability in the process," said Kirkeby.
First a person has to be committed to the South Dakota human services center in Yankton.
"That could be done by law enforcement that could be done by a doctor that could be done by a private provider so there are a lot of different mechanisms for a mental health hold and commitment to occur," said Thom.
Following a list of guidelines a Mental Health Board makes the final decision.
"I think it's an opportunity for somebody to improve themselves and take advantage of those few rare treasured resources that we have within our constitution," said Kirkeby.
But in order to get past the first hurdle the language of the bill needs some revision.
"It still needs a little work. At the end of the day, I'm hopeful the Sheriff's Association will support it, if it makes sense for South Dakota," said Thom.
House Bill 1188 goes in front of the House Health and Human Services Committee for its first reading Tuesday morning.