Learning from gun deaths

Olina Ortega, left, and Austin Gibbs light candles at a sidewalk memorial in front of Emanuel AME Church where people were killed by a white gunman Wednesday during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church in Charleston, S.C., Thursday, June 18, 2015. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The heinous shooting of nine people at a Bible study Wednesday night has raised questions about South Carolina’s gun laws. As it should.

It is difficult to say whether tougher gun laws might have stopped the unspeakable crime of which 21-year-old Dylann Roof is accused.

But as the community tries to process shootings driven by such hate, there is no ignoring the fact that in 2013 South Carolina ranked among the top 10 states for the number of deaths related to firearms.

President Barack Obama, sending condolences to the community, spoke of the need for tougher gun laws nationwide.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has long advocated for tougher laws in South Carolina.

Indeed, S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church and a victim of the shooting there, advocated for more extensive background checks for people purchasing guns.

The S.C. Legislature has made a name for itself by considering bills to relax gun restrictions. This year, bills to allow firearms on college campuses, ease requirements for carrying concealed weapons, teach marksmanship in public schools and make sure the federal government doesn’t try to limit semi-automatic weapons in South Carolina all were introduced. Fortunately none was enacted.

Ironically, the gun-related bill that did become law earlier this month was a much-needed ban on gun ownership for some domestic abusers. The version of the bill that was passed wasn’t as strong as domestic abuse victim advocates would have liked. But it is nevertheless a dramatic step forward in a state where the 2nd Amendment sometimes seems to be viewed as more important than the other 26 amendments — maybe combined.

The Post and Courier published a prize-winning series of articles about the staggering problem of domestic violence in South Carolina. The resulting domestic violence law, with its controversial gun ban provision, is an indication that the state’s legislators can stand up for the well-being of its citizens by compromising on some difficult issues.

And now there is the Emanuel AME Church mass shooting that should signal the General Assembly that gun limits are called for beyond domestic abuse situations.

Predictably, some gun enthusiasts are reading the situation perversely. They contend that, had people at the Bible study — yes, the Bible study — been armed, fewer people might have died. That’s assuming that the Rev. Clementa Pinckney would actually carry a handgun into church. Or that gentle, soft-spoken 87-year-old Susie Jackson, or any of the other victims, would do so either.

Despite what some insist, studies show that firearms increase the likelihood of being shot at home. And the Harvard Injury Control Center concluded that more guns lead to higher homicide rates.

It’s time — while the grief is still palpable and the reality of gun violence is all too clear in South Carolina — for the state to revisit its gun laws. There is no reason gun sales should not be regulated at gun shows as they are at gun stores. There is good reason to do whatever is necessary to make sure guns aren’t being transferred into the hands of mentally unstable people or criminals. There is certainly a need to require gun owners to report information on people they sell or give weapons to, or when a firearm has been lost or stolen.

S.C. law apparently allowed Dylann Roof to have a firearm even though a drug possession charge was pending against him. State law only prohibits those convicted of crimes of violence from buying guns.

It would be a crying shame not to see the horrifying shooting deaths of nine people as a signal that deadly weapons need to be strongly regulated.