Trump condemns racism after shootings: ‘These sinister ideologies must be defeated’
Two S.C. House Democrats called on Republican State House leaders Monday to demand immediate action after two deadly mass shootings rocked the country over the weekend.
In a joint letter to Gov. Henry McMaster, state Reps. Wendy Brawley, of Richland, and Wendell Gilliard, of Charleston, asked that GOP leaders call state lawmakers back to the capitol for a special session to take up gun and hate crime legislation.
At least one Republican legislator has said he would be willing to return to Columbia if a special session is called.
But the two Republican leaders of the state Senate and House who have the authority to call a special session, are unlikely to call lawmakers back to Columbia, and Gov. McMaster does not have the authority to do it. Lawmakers return to work in January to take up bills introduced this year and any new legislation introduced.
The shootings in El Paso, Texas, then Dayton, Ohio, which combined had a death toll of 31 as of late Monday, could spark a renewed effort to push gun-control measures in South Carolina.
That debate in South Carolina has ramped up in the wake of the 2015 deadly shooting at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church, where nine black churchgoers were killed by a white supremacist. Victims included the church pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
Specifically, Brawley and Gilliard called for the Legislature to consider a House bill on hate crimes and another that would ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, their letter said. Both bills have stalled in GOP-led committees during the legislative session.
Brawley told The State Monday Republican leaders should be receptive to the letter.
“This is the so-called party that promotes life and believes in the preservation of life,” she said. “How can you say you support life and you’re not willing to do everything to protect the lives of the people that you were elected to represent?”
State Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, told The State he would return to Columbia if a special session is called.
“Certainly time is of the essence on (Senate Bill) 154,” Gregory said, referring to his bill that would shorten the time it takes to report someone to a state database if they have been charged or convicted of a crime prohibiting them from owning a firearm. “There are people getting guns every day that shouldn’t be allowed to. I think this is a matter of national urgency. The problem is not going away.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said the proposal should be able to move quickly through the Legislature, pending on whether Republican leaders support it.
“I would hope that the majority sees the wisdom in doing something rather than nothing as we have done for so many sessions subsequent to the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel,” Kimpson said.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, told The State there is a possibility the chamber embraces the legislation.
“I think there is widespread support for strengthening the reporting laws,” he said. “I do think that’s something that is a possibility in the Senate.”
On top of House calls for a special session, state Sen. Darrell Jackson announced Monday that he would re-file legislation to define hate crimes in South Carolina and increase penalties for anyone who commits a hate crime. South Carolina is one of few states that has no hate crime laws on the books.
“The time to act is now ... not after the next tragedy strikes, not after it is too late,” the Richland Democrat wrote in a statement. “Our state has seen firsthand the horrors of hatred, and I think it’s about time we join the 46 other states in our nation in confronting the reality of what these crimes truly are.”
Thoughts, prayers, action
South Carolina has a history of bucking efforts to curb access to firearms.
In the four years following the deadly shooting at Emanuel AME, more than 150 bills concerning guns have been introduced in the State House, yet no substantial law has been passed. The only two laws to receive approval expanded gun ownership rights.
“Thoughts and prayers, they’re comforting, but we need action now,” tweeted state Rep. J.A. Moore, D-Berkeley, whose sister was killed at Mother Emanuel. “So, I’m calling on every state legislator across the country to act, because we can’t get federal folks to act.”
South Carolina’s two Democrats in Congress — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, of Columbia, and U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, of Charleston, both voiced support for action in Congress following the shootings.
And South Carolina’s top GOP congressional lawmakers appeared willing to consider narrow gun-control measures.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham — a close ally of President Donald Trump — voiced support Monday for so-called “red flag laws,” a sentiment then echoed by Trump in a Monday morning televised address to the nation.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also said he would return from recess to take a vote in Washington on gun legislation.
“I’d do it tonight, I’d leave tonight, I’ll go tomorrow,” Scott, R-North Charleston, said on Face the Nation Sunday. “And as leaders of this country, we have an opportunity to go back ... and deal with the issue, and I hope that we find the resolve to take apart the issue and not just deal with one silo.”