Lawmakers, police officials push tougher gun possession bill
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina police and a bipartisan group of lawmakers expressed support Monday for a bill that would prohibit a wider range of convicted criminals from carrying guns.
The proposed legislation would prevent anyone convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison to have, ship, carry or receive a gun or ammunition. Current law prohibits only those convicted of violent crimes from having a gun.
Bill author Rep. Seth Rose said at a Statehouse news conference that law enforcement officials requested the legislation, which would bring state law into compliance with federal law and give local police the means to get offenders off the streets.
“I would submit as a former prosecutor that our local police are on the front lines of fighting crime and gun violence in our communities and this is legislation that would bring our state law into compliance,” the Columbia Democrat said.
The proposal also would increase the penalties for convicts illegally possessing guns, which lawmakers said would also help reduce gun violence and keep weapons out of the hands of offenders. First-time offenders would face a misdemeanor charge while repeat violators would face felony charges.
In a letter sent to members of the General Assembly last year, Columbia police Chief Skip Holbrook called on lawmakers to take action to reduce gun violence, which Rose said helped inspire the proposed legislation. Holbrook wrote that a person convicted of strong-arm robbery is legally allowed to possess a firearm under South Carolina law but prohibited under federal law, thus tying the hands of local law enforcement, which is unable to make the arrest.
“I can’t say enough how important this measure is. This is commonsense, comprehensive legislation that allows us to hold people to account,” Holbrook said Monday.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who supports expanding the current law, said the issue isn’t partisan and concerns the safety of communities statewide.
“We need help,” Lott said. “We’ve got too many people that are dying to gun violence.”
Columbia co-sponsors of the legislation said they want to ensure that law-abiding gun owners know the proposed legislation would not impede their current rights.
“This legislation is not an assault on anyone’s rights; instead, it is properly arming our law enforcement agencies with the tools that they need to make our streets, communities and lives safer,” Democratic Rep. Ivory Thigpen said.
Republican Rep. Kirkman Finlay said the legislation is invaluable and will draw a strong distinction between lawful and illegal gun holders.
“What you’re starting to see is a bipartisan coalition coming together to address the bad people, the criminals, the repeat offenders, the people who are out looking to do harm” Finlay said. “We want to go after them.”
The bill was referred to the House judiciary committee.