Under legislation proposed Wednesday, South Carolinians would have to wait five days instead of three for a background check before they buy a gun.
The aim of the legislation filed by Sens. Greg Gregory and Greg Hembree, both Republicans, and Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat, is to reform the state’s gun laws and address the so-called “Charleston Loophole.”
In addition to extending the background check period, the bill would speed up the time given to court officials to record criminal information in a database that is used to check whether a person can legally purchase a firearm.
The bill also calls for the creation of a panel of solicitors, judges and prosecutors to work together during a two-year period to help “clean up” the state’s database by ensuring that reports are substantive and timely. Once that is complete, the waiting period for a background check would revert to three days.
“The only people who should fear this legislation are people who are unfit to carry a gun,” Kimpson said. “This effort is to improve reporting not just by time limitations but also the substance being reported.”
A separate bill filed by Hembree, of Horry County, would also change who can buy a gun. Current state law prevents violent offenders from purchasing firearms, but it does not bar all felons – as federal law does. The bill would change that, bringing South Carolina in step with the rest of the nation, Hembree said.
The bill also would create graduated penalties for people who cannot legally carry a firearm but do so nonetheless. A person carrying a firearm illegally would face a misdemeanor that carries up to three years in prison for the first offense; a felony that carries up to five years in prison for a second offense; and a felony that carries up to 10 years in prison for a third.
Furthermore, Hembree’s proposal would criminalize through state law attempts to buy a firearm if someone is legally prohibited from doing so. The prohibition currently exists only through federal law, and it’s rarely enforced, Hembree said.
“Second amendment advocates should applaud both of these bills because the problem is not with the lawful gun owner,” Hembree said. “This is a way to address the real problem; to protect the rights of the lawful gun owner by enforcing the consequences on the unlawful gun owner.”
The three senators touted the bill’s bipartisan effort and said they hope they’ll gain traction with support from both sides of the political aisle. Several bills in both chambers that aim to reform or expand South Carolina’s gun laws have languished in committee this legislative year.
The bills proposed Wednesday are the result of the work of a Senate panel that traveled the state seeking input from the public on how to address gun reform that also did not infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens, the senators said.
The panel was created to help address the “Charleston Loophole,” the name given to a clerical error that allowed convicted killer Dylann Roof to purchase the firearm he would ultimately use to slay nine black parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
Kimpson said he could not say that if the proposed law had been in place, it would have prevented Roof from purchasing the gun. But Kimpson said federal staffers struggled to find Roof’s information when running his background check, an issue the bill seeks to address.