A year after losing her mother and two cousins in the Emanuel AME massacre, Sharon Risher continues to push to close the “Charleston loophole” that allowed Dylann Roof to buy a .45-caliber Glock handgun.
Risher hopes testimony from others who have lost loved ones to gun violence will compel lawmakers to tighten South Carolina’s law governing gun-background checks. They can share their stories in a S.C. Senate hearing planned for Charleston this summer.
“If you can sit there as a lawmaker and listen to the pain that comes out of anybody’s voice ... and you’re not stirred in your soul, then I question your empathy,” said Risher of Charlotte.
If you can sit there as a lawmaker and listen to the pain that comes out of anybody’s voice ... and you’re not stirred in your soul, then I question your empathy,”
The Rev. Sharon Risher of Charlotte
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S.C. gun-control advocates say a solution to the “Charleston loophole” could be on the horizon, more than a year after the slaying of nine black parishioners inside Charleston’s Emanuel AME church.
This summer’s hearing is a “meaningful start to what could become significant legislation on gun reform,” said state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, who has pushed gun-control proposals since the massacre.
Kimpson said he hopes the hearing produces a bill that both Republicans and Democrats can support.
Tightening background checks is an important issue among gun-control advocates after a clerical error allowed Roof to buy a gun before his criminal check was completed. State law allows up to three days to perform the background check. But gun-control advocates want to extend that period so authorities have more time to investigate potential red flags.
“We’re starting in a bad position,” said Kimpson. “We can only move forward. Any move forward is a substantive move.”
We’re starting in a bad position. We can only move forward. Any move forward is a substantive move.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston
In the session that ended Wednesday, Kimpson proposed a bill that would block dealers from selling firearms until a background check is completed. None of Kimpson’s gun-control proposals – he also proposed banning assault weapons and mandating all firearms be registered with the State Law Enforcement Division – passed.
Kimpson publicly blamed Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin for not giving his bills a hearing, and the Pickens Republican late in the session agreed to the subcommittee hearing.
Martin controls the size and makeup of the subcommittee, and Kimpson expects it — like the Senate — to be Republican dominated.
But holding the hearing in Charleston is important, Kimpson said. “It’s significant to have the input of the people who experienced first hand what our current policy ... allowed a madman to do.”
Martin plans to attend the hearing and vowed to keep an open mind. But he doubts a passable bill will emerge.
“I don’t think there’s going to be an overwhelming surge in sentiment in either house to move toward a more liberal application of the background-check law,” Martin said. “I just don’t see that.”
I don’t think there’s going to be an overwhelming surge in sentiment in either house to move toward a more liberal application of the background check law. I just don’t see that.”
State Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee
Sylvie Dessau, S.C. chapter leader of gun-control group Moms Demand Action, disagrees. She said she is confident lawmakers in GOP-controlled General Assembly will see that expanding the background check period is “common sense.”
“It’s not about preventing any law-abiding person from getting a weapon,” said Dessau of Columbia. “It’s about making sure people who shouldn’t have guns can’t get them. ... I don’t see why anybody would want to oppose that, anybody in good faith.”
Kimpson said he has invited gun-control advocacy groups to speak at the hearing, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.
“The gun-reform advocates have seldom been invited to the table,” Kimpson said. “I’m inviting them to the table.”
Kimpson pointed to his landslide victory over discredited former state Sen. Robert Ford in Tuesday’s District 42 Democratic primary as evidence his constituents support his fight for gun control.
Kimpson said he doesn’t expect Martin’s promised subcommittee meeting to prove a “charade.” But if it is, Kimpson said he will go back to blocking bills in the Senate. He said Democrats’ efforts to pass body-camera legislation and bring down the Confederate flag last year give him optimism.
“We have proven we can accept tough challenges and react to the current affairs of the day,” Kimpson said. “Yes, it’s a heavy lift, but we’ve got a blueprint.”