State Politics

SC lawmakers, law enforcement officers seek stronger gun control for repeat offenders

Gun control - voices from both sides

South Carolina resident Pamela Dinkins lost her son Eric Washington to gun violence in 2015. Gerald W. Stoudemire has been president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, an NRA State Association, for over 15 years. Both join others as they share their
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South Carolina resident Pamela Dinkins lost her son Eric Washington to gun violence in 2015. Gerald W. Stoudemire has been president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, an NRA State Association, for over 15 years. Both join others as they share their

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook wrote last year that lawmakers often ask him what they can do to help after a violent crime.

In a letter to legislators, he said strengthening law enforcement’s ability to strip guns from people who shouldn’t have them would be a major step.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and law enforcement officials called for two measures to prevent gun violence. They include getting state law to mirror federal law for felons possessing firearms and increasing punishment for illegally having a gun.

The coalition included several Richland County state representatives — Democrats Seth Rose and Ivory Thigpen and Republican Kirkman Finlay — as well as Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Holbrook.

“We continue to divide those who are lawful, recreational and thoughtful, careful users of guns and those who intend to use them for bad purposes,” Finlay said. “Those are going to be the people we focus on.”

The coalition called for toughening state law, which bars some convicted felons from owning guns. They want South Carolina law to mirror the federal statute that bans all people guilty of a felony from owning a firearm.

South Carolina only bans people convicted of specific violent crimes from having a gun. A person convicted of strong arm robbery can still own a firearm under South Carolina law, Rose said. Although that person would be federally barred from ownership, state authorities cannot arrest a person for a violation of federal law.

“Making sure local law enforcement can arrest felons they come into contact with possessing guns is common sense,” Rose said. “I would be curious to know what legislator would take the position that it is okay to allow felons to possess guns in South Carolina. That is the case today and it needs to change.”

Rose and his allies are also pushing for graduated sentences for illegal gun possession. Current law carries a sentence of up five years imprisonment for illegal possession for the initial charge and every charge after that.

Under the proposal, a first-time offense would be punished as a misdemeanor with up to three years in prison. A second offense could land someone in jail for up to 10 years and a third would be punishable by up to 15 years. The second and third offenses would be felonies.

“It’s properly arming our law enforcement agencies with the tools that they need to make our streets, our communities and our lives safer,” Thigpen said. “The irony is we’ve handcuffed our law enforcement by not giving them the proper tools to do their job. Today we take one step further in taking those handcuffs off …”

The legislators and law enforcement officials emphasized their proposal is not an encroachment on legal and responsible gun owner. Many times the legislators and head officers emphasized this is not an encroachment on legal and responsible gun ownership.

Rose said the proposals have been backed by the South Carolina Police Chiefs Association and he expects the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association to support them too.

Lott called the proposals “common sense” that goes “after the bad guys.”

“Kids have to sleep in the bathtub because they’re scared of a bullet coming through their apartment walls and killing them,” Lott said. “Those who made the wrong decisions, they need to be arrested, they need their guns seized.”

Rose said the amount of gun violence in the Midlands and across the country prompted him to focus on gun control.

“There is a small segment of society that wants us to accept that gun violence is inevitable, that we as a society should become numb to it,” Rose said. “I cannot and will not accept that. There will always be occurrences that are outside of our control, but the things we can control we should.”

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.

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