Dutch Fork students emotional during 17-minute walkout against guns
The days after last year’s deadly shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school were difficult for students like Sydney Clinton.
Clinton was eating lunch at North Charleston’s Fort Dorchester High School when the fire alarm went off. Even though it turned out to be a false alarm, it was disturbing because the Parkland gunman triggered a similar alarm to lure his victims outside.
“I instantly thought of the shooting when I heard the fire alarm,” said Clinton, 17. “It was terrifying.”
That fear motivated Clinton and a half-dozen other students to skip class Thursday to lobby S.C. lawmakers to pass a bill that they say would make it harder for firearms to fall into the wrong hands.
Senate Bill 154 would expand to five days from three the period that the FBI has to conduct a background check for a gun purchase. It also would speed up how quickly criminal convictions and court orders must be added to the background check system.
The bill would address the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which allowed the gunman in the 2015 Charleston church massacre to buy a gun despite his criminal record when the three-day background-check period expired.
The proposal stalled in the last legislative session. But rally-goers hope this year to push it through the Senate Judiciary Committee by keeping pressure on lawmakers, including using the social media hashtag #Get154ToTheFloor.
The bill’s co-sponsor — state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston — told the students outside the State House that their movement would “make the majority needed to pass gun reform.”
One addition to that majority could be state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who said Thursday he plans to sign on as a co-sponsor if the bill sticks to the legislation that was introduced last year.
“This does not affect your Second Amendment rights,” Davis said. “I don’t think anybody is opposed to background checks and proper reporting.”
State Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland, who is sponsoring companion legislation in the S.C. House, echoed that sentiment. “It’s a ridiculous notion that you cannot be pro-Second Amendment and want common-sense gun legislation.”
But the bill won’t have smooth sailing to a vote.
State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, said an expanded waiting period doesn’t make sense if the FBI doesn’t use that time to continue running a background check.
“I’ve talked to federal agents, and they stop the search after three days,” said Goldfinch, a Judiciary Committee member. “As it is, it’s like a poke in the eye for lawful gun owners.”
Next week, Democrats in the U.S. House will convene their first hearing on a bill that would expand universal background checks on all firearm purchases, including those conducted at gun shows and over the internet. However, that legislation does not address the “Charleston loophole.”
The office of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, told McClatchy closing the Charleston loophole this year will be one of his top legislative priorities.
But Goldfinch said the bill’s proposal to speed up reporting requirements — cutting to 10 days after a criminal conviction, and 24 to 48 hours after any court order that would prevent someone from having a firearm — could pass if it doesn’t require too much additional money or staff.
The Senate bill is co-sponsored by state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, who said he has spoken with Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry, about scheduling a hearing for the proposal.
Gregory applauded the young people who took part in Thursday’s rally.
“It’s good to see them involved in the political process,” Gregory said. “They’re the ones who are the targets of these mass shootings.”