Gun-rights and gun-reform advocates expressed their frustrations during the final of four meetings of the Senate’s Gun Issues Special Committee, which has traveled the state taking testimony from citizens to determine if the state’s gun laws should be reformed.
The final meeting was held Thursday at the State House’s Gressette Building, in a room with a capacity of 140 people; the largest available, but far smaller than during previous meetings held in larger halls.
The lack of space forced many speakers to arrive early and tension from ardent supporters on both sides was visible in the faces of attendees. Some debated the merits of making changes to state law even before the meeting started.
About 40 attendees were sent to an overflow room set up on a separate floor, where the meeting was streamed. The meeting lasted until almost 9 p.m., with senators making closing remarks.
Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who pushed for extending the three-day waiting period for background checks to 28 days during the 2016 legislative session, vowed to again push for reform to close the so-called “Charleston Loophole.” Legislators prefile legislation for the upcoming session in December.
“What we heard over the last four meetings, I think, is compelling evidence that the people of South Carolina want comprehensive, expanded background checks,” Kimpson said. “To be clear, this is not about taking away people’s guns. This is about making sure that people who are unfit to have guns are properly screened with enough time from the federal government to make that decision and get the decision back to the gun dealer.”
About 60 people spoke Thursday, with a slight majority leaning in favor of gun reform. Among the speakers was Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, who called for stiffer penalties for those who illegally posses firearms, after saying “we have a problem with guns being in the hands of the wrong people.”
“I simply say, doing nothing is not acceptable,” Holbrook said. “The difficulty is finding the balance, the sweet spot, the right thing to do. And that is challenging.”
Holbrook said that there is a need for a comprehensive ability to conduct background checks and that computer systems should be able to communicate with each other. He added there should be severe consequences for those who commit violent crimes “on our citizens.”
Before and after Holbrook, there were calls for citizens to protect themselves and for lawmakers to not interfere with their ability to do so.
Scott Parks of Lexington County told legislators what was best was for them to pass constitutional carry legislation, which would allow South Carolinians to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
“Every human being has the right to defend their selves, their property, their loved ones and their neighbors,” Parks said. “I believe that what may help in this situation and may decrease the violence with people choosing to break the laws would be more people who can defend theirselves and are willing to help others in doing so with a tool that is best efficient for that job. And at this time, in most cases, that is a firearm.”
But there were also many calls for reform, including from Faith Robertson, a ninth-grader who is frustrated with the active-shooter drills she has been forced to participate in as a student.
“This is not the society that we want to live in,” Robertson said. “We live in a different society. I ask you to make a change and protect not only children but adults and all of the people who are victims or possible victims of gun violence.”
What is the “Charleston Loophole?”
Gun-reform advocates dubbed a clerical mistake that allowed alleged Charleston Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof to buy a gun as “the Charleston Loophole.”
Roof should have been barred from buying a gun because of prior drug charges against him. But an FBI background check did not find those charges within the three-day waiting period required by federal law because a Lexington County clerk did not record the charges properly.
Gun-rights advocates have argued, however, that a change in the law is not necessary, since an extended waiting period would still not fix a clerical error like the one committed with Roof.
What others have said
Before today’s hearing, the Gun Issues Special Committee has held meetings throughout the state. Here’s what previous speakers have told the panel:
“We know that the man who killed my husband should have not been able to buy the gun that was used to kill him. It was human error that permitted that purchase that happened. But it was a law that limited the amount of time for record review that allowed an oversight to become a fatality.” Jennifer Pinckney, widow of Sen. Clementa Pinckney
“I need the right to defend myself and my family. I don’t need to be infringed upon.” Kevin Dunlap of Oconee County
“Thoughts and prayers do not legislate. People do. And so far, we have failed miserably.” Jillian Hollingsworth of North Charleston
“Guns do not kill people. People kill people. If not with a gun, it will be with a knife or a hammer, and we have seen that.” Andrew Greene of Summerville
“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.” Ronald Page of Darlington
“I will not stand before my maker and say that I did nothing to reduce gun violence in my country.” Phyllis Jones, with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America