South Carolina has done little to comply with a year-old federal law aimed at strengthening the nation's system for keeping firearms out of the hands of convicted criminals and dangerous mentally ill people, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said Thursday.
The measure, enacted in the wake of the April 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, was designed to improve the national gun background check system by encouraging states to share records of people barred from owning firearms. President George Bush signed the bipartisan bill into law in January 2008.
Since that time, South Carolina and several states have done little to improve their reporting to the FBI's National Instant Background Check System, which federally licensed gun dealers must consult before making a sale, said Peter Hamm, the Brady Campaign's communications director.
A search of federal records found South Carolina has only submitted 70 percent of its records of convicted felons, and the state has passed along just 11 records of people deemed by the courts to be dangerously mentally ill, the Brady campaign stated.
South Carolina hardly has the worst record of reporting. Mississippi, for instance, shared only 2 percent of its felony conviction records with the FBI, Hamm said. But the Palmetto State could do much better, he said.
"It's very frustrating," Hamm said. "We're not asking for new laws. This is about common sense and keeping the most dangerous people from getting guns."
Officials from the State Law Enforcement Division, South Carolina's central repository for criminal records, said they weren't sure how the Brady Campaign arrived at its numbers, as SLED submits all felony arrests and dispositions to the FBI.
Arlyn Pendergast, owner of the ATP Gun Shop & Range in Summerville, said the gun-check system seems to work just fine at stopping illegal gun purchases. "There is no such thing as a perfect system, but what they have is excellent," he said. "It's catching most of them."
The Brady Campaign has long accused South Carolina of having weak guns laws as well. In the organization's 2008 state scorecards, released this week, South Carolina earned just nine points out of a total of 100. Brady Campaign officials said the state's gun laws help feed the illegal gun market, allow the sale of guns without background checks and put children at risk.
Gerald Stoudemire, president of Gun Owners of South Carolina and owner of a gun shop in Little Mountain, scoffed at the scorecard.
"I don't think the Brady bunch has enough knowledge of firearms or laws to grade anybody," he said. "A total ban on firearms is all they want, and they distort the truth to advance that purpose."
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley pointed out that South Carolina ranks first in the nation, per capita, in violent crime, and fifth, per capita, for homicides. That shows more needs to be done to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, he said.
"Our state should strive to be the best in the country on guns, not down at the bottom of the list," he said.
Among other things, Riley and police leaders are pushing to expand current state laws governing the illegal use and possession of firearms to include military-style rifles.
They also want to bar anyone convicted of a crime carrying a sentence of two years or more from possessing these guns. The change would complement federal law, and allow local and state police to arrest criminals caught with military-style guns, Riley said.