South Carolina

Activist says gun statistics show S.C. is a ‘war zone’

KIRK BROWN/INDEPENDENT MAIL Michael Wukela, executive director of Progress South, speaks about gun-control issues at a Young Democrats of Anderson County meeting in downtown Anderson.
KIRK BROWN/INDEPENDENT MAIL Michael Wukela, executive director of Progress South, speaks about gun-control issues at a Young Democrats of Anderson County meeting in downtown Anderson.

Michael Wukela says a litany of gun-related statistics for South Carolina add up to one grim conclusion.

“We are living in a war zone,” said Wukela, executive director of Progress South.

His group helped organize last month’s anti-violence rally at the Statehouse in Columbia after 49 people were fatally shot at an Orlando nightclub. Last Thursday, he took part in a discussion about gun-control issues hosted by the Young Democrats of Anderson County at McGee’s Scot-Irish Pub in downtown Anderson.

A 2016 report from the Violence Policy Center found that South Carolina ranks ninth nationally in the rate of gun-related deaths. The state’s overall homicide rate is the nation’s fifth highest, according to Wukela.

He also said the number of mass shootings in the state increased in the year after nine people were slain at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A mass shooting is defined as an incident in which at least four people are killed or injured. There were seven such shootings in South Carolina, including the one in Charleston, between June 17, 2014, and June 17, 2015, resulting in 13 deaths and 25 injuries, according to a national database of mass shootings.

In the ensuing year, 14 people died and 25 were injured in 10 mass shootings throughout the state.

“Between 2004 and 2013, in this state alone, 6,461 people were killed with guns,” Wukela said. “To give you some perspective, that is 20 percent more over the same period of time than U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.”

Eight people in Anderson County died in gun-related homicides in the first half of 2016, compared with 12 victims in the same period last year.

Phil Dudley, president of Young Democrats of Anderson County, said his group decided to host last week’s discussion because “there are lots of different ways that gun violence affects us.”

Monica Rockwell, an Anderson resident who is a member of Moms Demand Action, and Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper, who is a Republican, also spoke at the event, which about 35 people attended.

Rockwell talked about how often she has seen flags flying at half-staff in recent months after deadly shootings across the nation.

“This is the new normal,” she said. “But it isn’t normal. It is only normal because we’ve accepted it. We’ve let it go on.”

Moms Demand Action has 3.5 million members throughout the U.S. who advocate responsible gun ownership, Rockwell said.

“We are not here to eliminate by any means the Second Amendment,” she said.

Wukela and Rockwell are hoping that South Carolina legislators will pass a measure next year extending the state’s three-day waiting period for gun purchases so authorities have more time to complete background checks. A state Senate subcommittee is expected to hold hearings on the proposal in August or September.

Dylann Roof, the accused gunman in the Charleston church shooting, was able to buy a gun — despite a prior confession involving a narcotics arrest — because his background check was not completed in time.

Wukela said he believes a large majority of South Carolina residents would support a longer waiting period for gun purchases. The key is putting pressure on legislators to take action, he said.

“We don’t need to go out and convince people,” Wukela said. “What we need to do is mobilize.”

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