COLUMBIA — South Carolina needs better safeguards to prevent people who shouldn't have a gun from buying one, as white supremacist Dylann Roof did before massacring congregants in a black Charleston church, a Democratic and Republican state senator said Wednesday.
The two hope their bipartisan approach can crack South Carolina's conservative opposition to laws that make it it harder for anyone to get a gun. They point out it would only stop people who shouldn't have a gun to begin with.
"The more mass shootings we have in this country, the harder it is going to be to defend the Second Amendment," said Sen. Greg Gregory, a Lancaster Republican.
Their bill would give authorities more time to do a background check and add other reporting requirements.
The bill introduced Wednesday might not have stopped Roof. A clerk entered the wrong police agency for a pending drug charge when Roof went to buy the gun he went on to use in the racist June 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME church in Charleston.
The FBI background check flagged the arrest because federal law prohibits gun sales to people addicted to drugs. But the statute is vague, so the agent needed more information about Roof's charge. Because of the clerical error, the agent couldn't get it within the three-day window for the background check.
The South Carolina bill requires courts to report guilty verdicts to a state database within 10 days instead of the current 30 days. Any restraining orders, bonds or other items that might prevent someone from buying a gun would have to be reported within two days. Currently there is a patchwork of requirements, said Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson.
"It's going a long way to solving the Dylann Roof issue," said Kimpson, whose district includes Emanuel AME church.
The bill also expands from three days to five days the length of time officials can take to finish a background check. Kimpson would rather require any background check problems be resolved before selling a gun no matter how long it takes, but acknowledged he would get little Republican support for that.
A second bill from Republican Sen. Greg Hembree of Little River would ban any felon from owning a weapon. Currently in South Carolina only people convicted of violent felonies can't have guns — exempting drug dealers and other dangerous criminals, Hembree said.
Gregory said he thinks the bill can pass the state Senate in part because it has bipartisan support and in part because the slain pastor at Emanuel AME was state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.
"It springs from the death of one of our colleagues. I hope that would give it a little more impetus," Gregory said.
The bill would face a tougher challenge in the state House, which tends to be more conservative on gun rights. Most of the gun bills sponsored in that chamber this year expand who can carry guns in South Carolina and where guns can be brought.
But the senators point out South Carolina has passed gun restrictions before. In 2013, lawmakers approved a bill requiring the state to provide the federal background check database with information about people ruled in court to have mental problems.
That bill was rushed through after police said Alice Boland — who was ruled incompetent eight years earlier for threatening to kill the president — was still able to buy a gun. She brought it to a Charleston private school and pulled the trigger, but it didn't fire because she didn't know how to properly load it.
Relatives of the Emanuel AME shooting victims and survivors have sued the FBI for its failed background check on Roof. But the federal agency said its agents couldn't do their job properly because of problems with the information from South Carolina.
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