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‘Every day ... something could happen.’ SC students call for gun reforms after Florida

Fear of 'being mowed down by an assault rifle' shared by high school student at rally

School shootings, including a "code red" threat at Wando High School, top concern at rally in February supporting SC gun legislation
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School shootings, including a "code red" threat at Wando High School, top concern at rally in February supporting SC gun legislation

Wando High School students Carly Knight and Eva Chillura say growing up after the infamous Columbine school shooting means knowing a similar tragedy could await them any day at school.

“Every day you go into school, something could happen,” said Chillura, 15. “You kind of push it to the back of your mind.”

After this month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that threat has become even more real. “I went in the day after, looked out every single window and said, ‘Would I survive this fall or this jump, or what could be used as a weapon?’” said Knight, 18.

On Tuesday, the students rallied at the S.C. State House with educators, politicians and activists, many from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. The crowd’s demand was simple: Pass meaningful gun reforms to stop senseless violence and protect children at school.

A mass slaying at a Charleston church in 2015 and an Upstate elementary school shooting in 2016 sparked a debate over guns in South Carolina but resulted in no action. Now, in the wake of the Florida massacre, one proposal – a bill aimed at strengthening background checks before gun purchases – could be gaining steam.

“Florida is a watershed event,” state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, said Tuesday after a Senate panel debated a bill aimed at strengthening background checks before gun purchases.

The Florida shooting followed a mass shooting in Las Vegas, sending a message “there is no safe place any longer,” Gregory said. “Thinking and praying about mass shootings is not going to make them go away.”

Closing the ‘Charleston loophole’

Gregory said his proposal, sponsored with state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, is “low-hanging fruit” that could help curb gun violence.

The bill, S. 516, would expand the number of days a person must wait to buy a gun to five days from three while a background check is completed, giving authorities more time to determine whether a would-be buyer legally can purchase a gun.

Expanding the waiting period is an attempt to close, to some degree, the so-called “Charleston loophole.” After the existing three-day waiting period had expired – but with his background check still pending – now-convicted killer Dylann Roof bought the gun he used to slay nine African-American churchgoers at Charleston’s historic “Mother Emanuel” AME Church.

On Tuesday, senators delayed a vote on the Gregory-Kimpson bill, saying they needed more time to debate its details.

The bill aims to improve the accuracy of background checks by requiring clerks of court to report more quickly court orders and cases that bar a person from buying a firearm.

It would:

Reduce to 10 days from 30 the time that a clerk of court has to report the disposition of court cases to state law enforcement

Create a 48-hour deadline for clerks of court to report court orders, including restraining orders, orders of protection, orders preventing possession of a firearm, domestic violence convictions, and orders issued in cases of stalking, intimidation or harassment of another person

The bill likely will face some opposition.

The 48-hour deadline concerns some clerks of court and county advocates who say it could create a workflow problem, requiring staff to review all orders immediately to determine which ones must be reported to state law enforcement within two days.

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said the bill does not go far enough in lengthening the time a would-be gun buyer must wait to purchase a gun while a background check is being completed.

“Five (days) is better than three, but I don’t want to give this (General) Assembly a pass,” Malloy said.

‘It’s past time to talk about it’

The rally at the State House drew activists with different stories and messages for lawmakers.

Standing in the crowd, Melanie Geddis McFadden of Greenville said she has lost two loved ones to gun violence, deaths that possibly could have been avoided with tougher gun laws.

McFadden said her mother was shot and killed in a domestic-violence incident in front of her sisters. Her niece was shot and killed after a fight broke out in Myrtle Beach in 2014, she said.

“I don’t think healing is going to begin until we all sit down” and work toward a compromise, McFadden said. “If we don’t, we’re going to remain on this side, they’re going to remain on that side, and we’re going to have dead bodies in the middle.

“So until we start talking, we can’t save lives.”

At the rally, Gregory appealed to his fellow Republicans to reconsider the arguments often made after school shootings that derail any effort to toughen gun laws.

“The solution to gun violence in our country is not more guns,” Gregory said, adding he disagrees with those who say the aftermath of a school shooting is not the time to talk about gun control.

Quoting a Parkland student, he said: “It’s past time to talk about it.”

McMaster to hold school-safety summit in wake of Florida shooting

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster will lead a school-safety summit Thursday, two weeks after 17 students and faculty were killed at a Florida high school.

The public forum, slated for 2 to 5 p.m. at the University of South Carolina’s My Carolina Alumni Center, will include state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman and Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division.

Since the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., law enforcement and school officials have grappled with various proposals to keep school students safe, ranging from arming teachers to installing metal detectors.

Also, in 2016, 6-year-old Jacob Hall was mortally wounded by a gunman while at the Upstate’s Townville Elementary School.

“South Carolina schools and classrooms must be safe environments where learning, innovation and greatness can be achieved without fear, violence or distraction,” McMaster said in a statement. “Educators must be provided the necessary training and resources to recognize and report people who demonstrate violent or unstable behavior.”

In his 2018-19 executive budget proposal, McMaster has recommended a $5 million pilot program to jump-start putting a certified law enforcement officer in every S.C. school.

Maayan Schechter

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