The top Democrat in the S.C. House wants to ban the sale of AR-15s to people under 20 in the Palmetto State. Another legislator wants to make active-shooter drills mandatory in S.C. schools. A parent advocacy group says schools need more police in them.
Less than a week after 17 students and teachers were shot to death in a Parkland, Fla., school, South Carolina is gearing up for another debate about how to protect its students from a similar tragedy.
Palmetto State students are not immune.
In late 2016, 6-year-old Jacob Hall was mortally wounded when a gunman opened fire on a playground at Townville Elementary School. The accused shooter, now 15, will be tried as an adult.
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The first-grader’s death drove lawmakers to introduce still-pending bills to arm educators. Those proposals, sponsored by Republicans, are similar to ones introduced in South Carolina after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.
But the new proposals face a dim future.
Republicans, who overwhelmingly control the S.C. House and a make up a fractious majority of the state Senate, favor other possible solutions — including arming teachers and making it a crime to threaten a school.
House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, said it is unlikely Republicans will consider gun restrictions.
“No one wants to see loss of life, ever. But the system that has been designed to work to protect school children, to protect citizens, is not working,” Simrill said. “Restricting more rights of law-abiding citizens is not going to be the answer to the problem.”
One solution, Simrill added, is to remove restrictions on where citizens with concealed weapon permits can carry guns. Shootings in schools and churches happen “because they know that there will no one to shoot back,” he said.
‘Enough is enough’
Democrats aren’t buying that.
“Enough is enough – we have to take action to stop these horrific school shootings,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, tweeted on Tuesday.
Rutherford said he will introduce a bill banning the sale of AR-15 assault rifles – the weapon that authorities say was used in the Parkland shooting – to anyone under the age of 20. “It’s a first step toward keeping our children safe.”
State House Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said Tuesday he wants to revisit the 62 recommendations proposed by a 2014 School Safety Task Force that looked at ways to improve mental health services for students.
“It’s time we revisit the work of this special committee, which brought together many different stakeholders involved in South Carolina public schools for one objective: keeping our children safe,” Govan said. “We need to look at what we have accomplished, what we currently need and what resources are available.”
State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-Charleston, said he plans to file a bill calling for mandatory active-shooter drills in all public schools and requiring active-shooter training for teachers, according to WLTX.
The Richland 2 Black Parents Association also called Tuesday for that school district to put school resource officers in all of its schools. Officers now are in all of the district’s high schools and middle schools but not all of its elementary schools.
“While we recognize this is not the panacea for quelling school violence for our school district, we do acknowledge that no school in Richland School District 2 should be without a modicum of protection,” said Stephen Gilchrist in a statement.
Behind the scenes, more conversations are underway.
S.C. schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda, has been talking to principals, law enforcement, mental health advocates and others about how to make schools safer in the wake of last week’s shooting.
Election 2018: Guns and schools an issue?
The debate is making its way into the campaign for S.C. governor, too.
Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Phil Noble criticized the high scores that the National Rifle Association has given his chief rival, state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.
“Smith’s NRA report card should disqualify him as a potential Democratic nominee,” the Charleston businessman said, calling for better background checks, a ban on military-style assault rifles and repeal of a law that allows South Carolinians to carry guns into bars. “There are things we can do to keep the public safe. ... Putting our faith in the hands of someone who has been endorsed by the NRA in the past is not one of them.”
Smith’s campaign manager, Mike McCauley, called Noble’s criticism a “shameful” and “desperate attempt to play politics with this national tragedy.”
“James has a strong record of working towards common sense reforms to keep people safe while defending the Second Amendment,” McCauley said. “Today, because of James’ tireless efforts, domestic violence offenders and anyone with a criminal history of mental illness are prohibited from purchasing a firearm in our state. He also supports closing the Charleston loophole and passing universal background checks.”
In GOP-controlled South Carolina, Republicans have found fertile ground in expanding access to firearms while fighting gun restrictions.
For example, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster supports legislation that would allow South Carolinians to carry firearms openly without a permit.
Four days before the Parkland massacre, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Templeton posted on Facebook a similar call for “liberals” to “back off” calls for gun control.
“No one has the right to tell me how I can or cannot defend myself and my family,” Templeton wrote. “In fact, the Constitution prohibits it. South Carolina is gun country, and I dare anyone to take mine away.”
What legislators would do to stop school shootings
Several S.C. legislative proposals are aimed at stopping school shootings.
Put guns in educators’ hands: A handful of GOP-sponsored bills — Senate Bills 85, 88 and 432, and House Bills 3052 and 3330 — would allow educators to carry firearms in schools, subject to training and permitting requirements.
Criminalize threats to schools: Senate Bill 431, a GOP proposal, would make it a crime to threaten to cause damage, injury or death at a school.
Put metal detectors in schools: House Bill 4386, a Democratic proposal, would require all S.C. public schools to install metal detectors at their entrances.
Ban AR-15 sales to some: House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, said he will introduce a bill Wednesday to ban the sale of AR-15 assault rifles to people under 20.
Hold active-shooter drills: State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-Charleston, said he will introduce a bill requiring active-shooter drills in S.C. schools.