The S.C. Statehouse

The Statehouse in Columbia. File/Staff

COLUMBIA — Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want to close the so-called "Charleston loophole," filing legislation Wednesday to extend the gun purchase waiting period from three to five days.

The extended background check period is one of several components in two bills filed by Sens. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster; Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston; and Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach.

Gun reform activists have targeted the errant background check process that allowed now-convicted Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof to buy a pistol two months before killing nine worshippers inside the Charleston church in 2015.

"Lawful gun owners should applaud this legislation," Kimpson said Wednesday during a press conference announcing the bills.

"The only people who should fear this legislation are people who are unfit to carry a gun," he said.

The legislation also would either place or shorten the time limit when law enforcement agencies and courts must report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System factors that would prohibit someone from getting a gun.

The extension of the background check period from three to five days would only be in place for two years, to allow the state to provide current information to NICS.

The legislation was drafted as a result of hearings held across the state last year and conversations with the State Law Enforcement Division, Gregory said. 

Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday he would wait to see the final bill before determining if he would support any extension of the background check period.

Pro-gun groups and pro-gun lawmakers, who represent a majority in the Legislature, have resisted efforts to address any change in the background check process. 

The first bill, S. 516, will require courts to report the outcome of cases to SLED within 10 days. Current law gives courts 30 days, but senators found that reporting times vary.

Courts also would have 48 hours to report the issuance of any orders that would prevent someone from possessing a firearm. Currently there is no time requirement for reporting these instances.

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"If the reporting had been done quicker, it probably would have prevented Dylann Roof from getting a gun," Gregory said. "The (background check) time period wasn't the issue."

A second bill would stiffen penalties for those who carry guns illegally, making it a crime to attempt to purchase a gun when someone is prohibited from doing so on legal grounds.

It also creates graduated penalties for those caught carrying guns illegally. Someone caught the first time would be charged with a misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of up to three years. A third offense would be a felony crime facing up to 10 years.

"If you're a prohibited person, you get caught and you keep carrying a gun, then you really are starting to look at some serious jail time," Hembree said.

It also would broaden the scope of people who are not allowed to possess a weapon from "violent offenders" to felons, which aligns with the rest of the country and federal law, 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,” Hembree said.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.

Maya T. Prabhu covers the Statehouse from Columbia. She previously covered city government and other topics in South Carolina and Maryland. Maya has a bachelors in English from Spelman College and a masters in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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