CHARLESTON - As gang violence increases, Rep. Wendell Gilliard said the state needs to step up and put teeth behind the slogan "Tough on crime."
The Charleston Democrat introduced a bill that would consistently sentence driver-by shooters who kill or cause serious injury to 25 years to life with the possibility of execution. The bill will be sitting on lawmakers' desks when they return in January.
"The thugs will understand, we as a people, we mean what we say," Gilliard said.
Gilliard said state crime laws don't specifically target drive-by shooters and so no consistent punishment is in place. Under his bill, no part of the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence may be suspended or eligible for parole.
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He was prompted to introduce the legislation after the Nov. 9 drive-by shooting in Walterboro that left three people dead, including a 20-month-old child.
Gilliard said his legislation is also in response to increased gang activity in the state and the fact that gangs rely on drive-by shooting to retaliate and terrorize communities. The state Department of Public Safety released a study earlier this month that found the rate of gang violence in South Carolina rose nearly 1,000 percent in the last 10 years.
"I always tell people in hard times, we need to use extreme measures," Gilliard said. "Gangs are on the increase. We have to start calling it like it is."
The legislation has many local supporters, including Elder James Johnson, a community activist.
Johnson said if Gilliard's bill becomes law, it will send a message to young men and women considering violent acts, as well as provide some peace to residents.
"When you start having 2-year-olds getting killed like in Walterboro, I think we have to send a message," Johnson said. "We have to do something to stop all these drive-by shootings."