The South Carolina Senate will debate a proposal to toughen the penalty for threatening a school or student.
The bill, approved unanimously Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, follows the shooting deaths of 17 high school students and coaches at a Florida High School a month ago on Valentine’s Day.
State Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, said she filed the legislation to curtail copy cat threats.
Since the Florida shooting, S.C. law enforcement officers have responded to repeated threats to schools and students across the Palmetto State.
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In March, for example, a freshman at Broome High School in Spartanburg was charged with disturbing schools after he posted a photo of himself holding a gun with the words, “Round 2 of Florida tomorrow.” Another student at Chapin High School in the Midlands was charged with threatening violence after a photo circulated of the student showing the words “Shooting up the school tomorrow!” written on a bathroom wall at the school.
Senn’s proposed legislation would stiffen the penalties for anyone who threatens to harm or cause damage, injury or death to a student or at a school with a “firearm or dangerous weapon. “
Earlier, a Senate subcommittee had removed the word “firearm” from the bill after push back from the National Rifle Association. However, Senn said she added “firearm” back in to satisfy Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who wanted guns specifically referred to.
“The NRA had an issue, and they did not want to be singled out,” she said.
Anyone arrested would have to go before a judge, who could order a mental-health evaluation or other services, Senn said.
Penalties would be:
- Up to a $2,000 fine and two years in prison, for threatening a school with a dangerous weapon or instrument — a misdemeanor
- Up to a. $3,000 fine and three years in prison, for threatening to damage property — a misdemeanor
- Up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison, as well as other charges, for a threat resulting in injury or death — a felony
Currently, police can question and arrest anyone who threatens a school, including threats posted on social media.
But Senn said law enforcement and state solicitors have told her the current law, which carries less severe penalties, is inadequate. “This particular bill ... would hit the nail on the head,” she said.
But some lawmakers have expressed concern with the bill’s language, specifically the lack of defining language in the bill of a “dangerous weapon” and “credible threat.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said Tuesday he supported the legislation but was concerned that “credible threat” may be too subjective. At an earlier subcommittee meeting, Kimpson said he worried the bill would criminalize child’s play.
Senn said the bill’s intent is to not to enlarge the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” and fill up jails.
“This really is an effort to catch the kids who are thinking about doing violence,” she said. “If we can catch them in advance and get them some mental-health training this can perhaps save, not only lives of kids and teachers who are in the schools, but also the life of the (student making a threat).”
Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter