Before a smaller crowd than during previous meetings, primarily gun-rights advocates stood before a traveling legislative panel that is exploring if South Carolina’s gun laws should be tightened.
Tuesday’s meeting in Hartsville, a largely rural community, was the third of four scheduled throughout the state. The first two were held in Greenville and in Charleston, respectively. The final one will be held Oct. 27 in Columbia.
The crowd Tuesday was about a third smaller than during the past two meetings, totaling about 200. Far fewer were from other parts of the state; the majority of speakers who identified their home said they were from the Pee Dee area, predominantly Hartsville.
As in the past two hearings, Jennifer Pinckney, widow of fallen state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was in attendance, though she did not speak for a second time in a row.
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The meetings are being held in response to the so-called “Charleston Loophole,” a clerical mistake that allowed Columbia resident Dylann Roof to buy a gun he would later use to kill nine, including Clementa Pinckney, at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015.
Roof should have been barred from buying a gun because of drug charges against him, but a clerk entered the information improperly, which allowed him to buy the gun after three days when the FBI did not object.
The night’s most notable speaker was State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, who said the state’s concealed weapons permit law was the “gold standard.”
“Our CWP program is the envy of many in this country,” Keel said. “I would certainly not want to see any further erosion of what we have.”
Keel highlighted that the state has denied about 800 permits because of background checks, and has revoked more than 400 because of crimes permit holders committed. He said the solution for criminal background checks is not a simple one, but that SLED is working on a proposal the agency would soon present. Keel, however, did not elaborate.
The meeting became a little testy at the start, when Charles Kelcy started his speech by saying he has a hard time “trusting the motives of the subcommittee.” Sen. Gerald Malloy, chairman of the panel, interrupted Kelcy, asking him to just share his testimony. Malloy, D-Darlington, would later clarify that senators also apply those rules to themselves. But members of the crowd started yelling at the panel to allow Kelcy to speak.
Kelcy said he was sorry for the people who have lost their lives to gun violence, but suggested lawmakers focus on lawyers who plead down cases that involve guns.
“When someone gets charged with a crime, prosecute them to the fullest extent,” Kelcy said. “They get no breaks. And when they are charged a second time, build a set of gallows and end that problem.”
Ronald Page, a Darlington resident who works as a salesman at a gun store, said legislators cannot regulate human nature. “I shudder to think of a woman who in fear seeks out a firearm to protect herself and her children, who is denied and subsequently forced by the state into victimhood,” Page said.
Page and Kelcy were among 50 who spoke mainly in favor of keeping the state’s gun laws intact or expanding access to guns. Far fewer spoke in favor of tightening the state’s gun laws. Among them was Phyllis Jones, one of about a dozen with Moms Demand Actions who attended. The organization advocates for “common-sense gun reforms.”
Jones, the night’s final speaker, stressed the organization is not anti-gun and believes in the Second Amendment. But they’d like to see a reduction in gun violence.
“If we don’t have a discussion forcing solutions, what is the answer?” Jones said. “Do nothing? Is that what the answer is? Do nothing?
“I will not stand before my maker and say that I did nothing to reduce gun violence in my country,” Jones said.