South Carolina subcommittee to vet Charleston Loophole bills

A panel of South Carolina senators will vet two measures aimed at closing the so-called “Charleston Loophole” this week.

A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on S.516 and S.159 after legislative session Tuesday. The proposals extend the mandatory waiting period on firearm transfers in a “delayed” status from three days to five days, in the case of S.516, and 28 days, in S.159.

The bills, like others introduced over the last two years, attempt to close what gun control advocates dub the “Charleston loophole”— the clerical error that allowed a 21-year-old man to buy a .45-caliber Glock handgun without a completed background check in April 2015.

That man later opened fire during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, killing nine parishioners. In December, a federal jury found the gunman guilty of 33 offenses, including hate crime charges, and sentenced him to death. The gunman’s legal team requested a new federal trial in February.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, pre-filed S.159 in December. The National Rifle Association said Monday the penalties written into the bill for dealers who break the proposed 28-day waiting period “is quite excessive.”

“It carries with it a penalty of up to three years imprisonment, which would mean that even a simple paperwork error would result in the FFL holder being disqualified from both possessing firearms, as well as continuing with their livelihood as a licensed firearms dealer,” the NRA said. “Even federal law does not trigger an automatic disqualification for similar errors.”

S.516, cosponsored by Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, and Sen. Chauncey Gregory, R-Lancaster, contains the same harsh penalties, the NRA said, and attempts to improve the state’s criminal reporting system to ensure prohibited buyers don’t slip through the cracks — except, the association, the proposal “is poorly worded” and “makes no reference to any sort of filter that would ensure only truly prohibitive offenses be reported to NICS.”

Gun control in South Carolina faced an uphill climb in the new legislative session as Democrats, including Kimpson, complained about waning interest under the new presidential administration.

“It wouldn’t be honest of me to say that some legislators are guided by the national conversation,” he said in February. “And right now, it’s not being talked about because of the election of Donald Trump and his position with gun rights.”

Instead, the Republican-controlled General Assembly advanced a permitless carry measure — drawing ire from its neighbor to the north for ignoring an opportunity to address the systemic failures illuminated by the Charleston Church shooting.