Take a Hard Look at State Gun Laws

Post & Courier Editorial Dec 6 2015 12:01 am


When South Carolina lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January, they will have at least 10 gun control bills to consider. All of them deserve a serious look. It was by coincidence that the first pre-filing day for the S.C. Legislature fell less than 24 hours after the Wednesday terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and wounded more than 20. But the California attack was only the latest in a long, devastating string of tragedies that indicate the need for stricter gun laws both nationwide and here in South Carolina. One of those tragedies hit much closer to home. Few events have so shaken South Carolinians as the murder of nine men and women at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston on June 17. The state must learn from that terrible chapter in our history and do what it can to help ensure that such a horrendous crime is never again committed. Part of that effort will require tougher measures to keep guns out of the hands of people who would use them to do harm. Several state lawmakers have ideas that would be a good start. Multiple bills in both the House and Senate would require mandatory background checks through both the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). And similar proposals would clarify that gun sales cannot proceed before the background check has been completed or a substantial period of time — at least two weeks — has elapsed. Federal law already requires background checks for purchases from federally licensed firearms dealers. But state law does not currently require the results of the background check to be returned before a buyer can take home a gun — only that the check be initiated and the three-day mandatory waiting period be fulfilled. That loophole was apparently partly responsible for allowing Dylann Roof to purchase the gun allegedly used in the mass murder at Emanuel AME. Roof should have been barred from owning a gun after being arrested on a felony drug charge earlier this year, but clerical errors kept that information from showing up in the background check process until after the three-day waiting period had elapsed. And while law enforcement agencies have the authority to confiscate guns after purchase if a background check raises a red flag, the process is time-consuming and difficult to enforce. Strengthening the state’s background check laws would be the simplest and most effective way to ensure that convicted criminals have a harder time getting their hands on firearms. It would also be the least intrusive for law-abiding South Carolinians. But other pre-filed gun-related bills also offer sensible reforms. Gun buyers would be required to register their weapons’ serial numbers with SLED within 30 days of purchase under a bill pre-filed by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston. Registration would allow SLED to keep track of gun purchases by county, information that would be made available to the public on an annual basis. Other bills, including one by Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, would add assault weapons to the list of firearms banned in the state. Those already prohibited include machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and sawed-off rifles. And in an effort to keep guns from illegally getting into the hands of criminals, another bill pre-filed by Sen. Kimpson would require firearms owners and dealers to immediately report any stolen weapons to law enforcement. Since the tragedy at Emanuel, multiple mass shootings have drawn national media attention and raised calls for stricter gun laws at the federal level. National leaders should heed those calls. But South Carolinians should need no further tragedy than the loss of nine of their own to inspire rational reforms in our state.


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