COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Governor Henry McMaster and law enforcement officials took aim at what they called South Carolina’s broken bond system and called for increased criminal penalties for illegal gun possession.
It comes just days after five people were shot during an event billed as a “senior skip day” on the Isle of Palms. One of two people arrested, a 16 year old, was charged with having a stolen gun.
Gov. McMaster called on the South Carolina General Assembly to pass legislation geared toward stopping these types of crimes before the end of the current session.
“It’s clearly now the time to act in South Carolina. The General Assembly is here. These issues have been discussed for years. We’ve had press conferences, meetings, hearings, and it is clear that we do not have the accountability that we need,” said Gov. McMaster.
The governor said history shows that someone who will commit a crime will hesitate if he or she believes that they will be punished, not that they will just be caught or just prosecuted.
“The legislature is fully aware of all of this, and it is time before they leave at the end of this session for them to slam that revolving door shut on repeat criminals and have enhanced and increased penalties for crimes involving illegal guns.”
Large groups of juveniles gathered on the beach last Friday. At least two fights broke out during the senior skip day event, and shots were fired. Five people – mostly teenagers – we injured.
Isle of Palms Police Chief Kevin Cornett said that while most of those attending the so-called senior skip day may have been peaceful when they gathered, several individuals came out with the intent to commit a crime. “Several of those individuals came out and they brought weapons,” he said.
“I’ve worked to arrest individuals for committing violent crimes, and many times seen them out the next day or following weeks,” Chief Cornett said. “It is time that we give law enforcement in our state the tools that we need to keep our communities safe.”
He went on to say, “If we come together and we have bond reform, where individuals who commit violent crimes are not allowed to walk out of jail the following day, or those who commit a crime or violent act while they are out on bond to get put back in jail and stay in jail. When we do that, we protect our community- we protect our children.”
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has long called for bond reform, saying enhancing penalties for those who commit crimes while out on bond will help break the cycle.
Meanwhile, Chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, Mark Keel, said he is concerned about the increasing number of murders and young people with guns in the state.
“Gangs, drugs, and criminals’ easy access to guns continue to play a significant role in the violence we have seen in South Carolina,” he said.
Chief Keel said the shooting that happened on Isle of Palms last week, and others like it, are not acceptable and said that we’ve become all too familiar with the deadly impact of young people and repeat offenders with guns.
“Just yesterday I received a request from the Chief of Folly Beach to provide assistance for an event that was located on social media that says BYOB (bring your own booze) and BYOG (bring your own gun). I will tell those who are organizing this event now, this behavior will not be tolerated.”
As for the rise in murders across South Carolina, Chief Keel said there were a record 566 murders in South Carolina in 2021. Of those, 322 were committed by people under the age of 25, and 59 were under the age of 18.
“We have seen murders increase 52.2% over the past ten years. Weapon Law Violations increased by 4.2% in 2021 and 80.8% in the past ten years. 2021 marks eight straight years of increase. 91% of weapon law violations included firearms and at least 76% were identified as handguns. In 2021 there were 9,728 weapon law violations. Of those 5,117 were committed by people under the age of 25, with 1,435 of those by people under 18,” he said.
Keel said the criminal justice system only works when every part of the system works together. Law enforcement officers, he said, are increasingly encountering armed repeat offenders who are federal prohibited from possessing a firearm but are not prohibited under state law.
“This must change. It is past time to give law enforcement the tools they need to arrest felons who are caught possessing firearms in this state. South Carolina needs a true felon in possession of a firearm statute that local and state police can enforce,” he said.
He also wants to ensure that violent, repeat offenders are held accountable while they are out on bond.
The legislative session will come to a close at the end of next month.