Lawmakers pushing to close the ‘Charleston Loophole’ in 2017

In this June 19, 2015 file photo, police tape surrounds the parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church as FBI forensic experts work the crime scene, in Charleston, S.C. Prosecutors who wanted to show that Dylann Roof was a cruel, angry racist simply used his own words at his death penalty trial on charges he killed nine black people in June 2015 at a Charleston church. Roof's two-hour videotaped confession less than a day after the shooting and a handwritten journal found in his car when he was arrested were introduced into evidence Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

Columbia, S.C. — Last year we served as a members of the Senate Special Gun Issues Study Committee. The committee also included Sen. Gerald Malloy, chairman, Sen. Chip Campsen and Sen. Greg Hembree. The members participated in public hearings across the state and heard testimony from hundreds of citizens on the topic of firearms in South Carolina. Of particular interest was the “Charleston loophole” or a gap in our gun laws that allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the weapon used to murder our colleague, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, and eight other members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

The testimony we heard centered on how to close this loophole and strengthening penalties for the use of a gun in the commission of a crime, especially for repeat offenses. Sen. Greg Hembree addressed the latter issue, along with us, in legislation he plans to introduce this week. We are addressing the former matter with a bill we are filing this week. While the definition of the “Charleston loophole” is subject to debate, it is certain that two measures in this bill will tighten it considerably.

The first centers on bringing uniformity toward the reporting of dispositions by the SC Court of General Sessions and other lower courts. The bill stipulates that these courts report each case to SLED within ten days. They are also to report within 48 hours the issuance of any restraining orders, orders of protection, orders preventing a person from possessing a firearm, orders issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or those related to stalking, intimidation or harassment of another person as well as orders for bond.

This will speed up considerably the feeding of pertinent information into the NICS databased used to screen persons purchasing firearms from licensed gun dealers in SC. This approach is similar to one taken by the General Assembly several years ago in the passage of legislation requiring the names of citizens adjudicated for mental illness be sent to SLED / NICS. That effort was spurred by the unsuccessful attempt of a mass shooting perpetrated by Alice Boland at Ashley Hall School in Charleston. Ms. Boland had committed crimes that should have prohibited her from purchasing the weapon, but her name had not been sent to the database. Passage of the legislation has prevented over 1,000 people in the state previously adjudicated for mental illness from purchasing a weapon.

The second component of the bill would extend the potential waiting period for purchasing a firearm from three days to five. Currently a licensed firearms dealer must wait 3 days for results from a NICS screening before transferring a weapon to a buyer. While the vast majority of buyers are approved instantaneously, some are also denied instantaneously because of a disqualifying criminal record. Most importantly, though, are potential buyers who are flagged by the system and a human must look further into their background before authorizing the purchase. Dylann Roof was flagged by the system, but the gun dealer had discretion to sell him the weapon when the purchase was not denied after three days.

In speaking with gun dealers, community members and other interested parties in the districts we represent they do not think the three day period to be an adequate amount of time. Therefore, this bill expands it to five days to complete this critical task, but sunsets that part of the bill within two years after the other changes have been implemented.

A third component of the bill establishes the Judicial Criminal Information Technology Committee to conduct a review of the current state of law enforcement information technology and reporting. Among those serving on the committee will be the Chief Justice of the SC Supreme Court.

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