Gov. McMaster, officials urge stiffer penalties for illegal guns, bond reform

A bill, S.126, that would increase penalties for people who illegally possess or sell guns was not advanced out of a Senate subcommittee earlier this month.
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 8:05 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 11, 2023 at 11:18 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina governor will be flanked by local officials and the head of the state’s law enforcement division to push for harsher penalties for those in possession of illegal guns following a shooting on a Charleston County beach that injured five people Friday.

Gov. Henry McMaster, SLED Chief Mark Keel and Isle of Palms Police Chief Kevin Cornett gathered at the State House Tuesday morning to push the South Carolina General Assembly to pass legislation that increases the penalties for illegal gun possession and to pass bond reform.

A bill, H.3532, that would see people who commit a violent crime, certain weapons offenses, or certain crimes against children while out on bond for another violent offense automatically have that initial bond revoked passed the House of Representatives on March 1.

The bill will be heard in a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday morning.

“What do you tell the family of someone who had been caught, arrested, put in jail -- once, twice, three times -- who then shows up and kills your loved one?” Gov. Henry McMaster said during Tuesday’s press conference. “What do you tell them?”

The move for stiffer illegal gun penalties has a more difficult journey. A bill, S.126, that would increase penalties for people who illegally possess or sell guns was not advanced out of a Senate subcommittee earlier this month.

SLED Chief Mark Keel says there were over 9,700 weapon law violations in 2021. A little over 5,000 of that were committed by people under 25 and about 1,400 by people under the age of 18.

The push comes after a shooting on an Isle of Palms beach that injured five people who were mostly teenagers. In a Tuesday morning update, IOP Sgt. Matt Storen says four victims have been released from the hospital. One victim, a 28-year-old woman remains in the hospital in stable condition.

“The shooting that occurred on Isle of Palms Friday afternoon and others like it should never be acceptable,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said.

Isle of Palms Police Chief Kevin Cornett said high school seniors from around the Lowcountry were on the beach Friday for “senior skip day.”

Police said the shooting took place near the IOP pier around 5:15 Friday afternoon. Authorities were working to get two fights on the beach under control when shots rang out.

It is not yet clear what school district(s) the students were from or what caused the fights to break out.

An 18-year-old and a juvenile have been arrested on firearm violation charges, but police say it is unclear whether either was involved in the actual shooting.

Cornett says paradise can be struck by crime. He says with people getting shot just for spending their time on the beach, it opens people’s eyes that this just isn’t a problem for one specific area, but it’s a problem everywhere.

“Throughout my career, I’ve worked to arrest individuals for committing violent crimes,” Cornett said. “And many times, I’ve seen them out the next day or following weeks. It is time that we give law enforcement in our state the tools that we need to keep our community safe.”

Keel also referenced a social media screenshot of another planned event at Folly Beach for this Thursday. He says the top of the screenshot says “BYOB” for bring your own bottle and “BYOG” for bring your own gun.

Chief Andrew Gilreath, the director of public safety for the city of Folly Beach, says they’ve reached out to SLED and other agencies for assistance.

“The beach is another place that’s solitude and refuge and no one should feel like they have to dodge bullets while they’re at the beach,” Gilreath said.

Both state and local officials say these bills need to pass before the General Assembly goes home in May.

“At the end of the day, this is about making sure that they’re held accountable and that they understand that when you commit a crime and carry a weapon that’s used for violence, that you’re going to answer for that there’s going to be repercussions,” Cornett said.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano, whose agency assisted with the shooting, said on Saturday that the districts should have alerted agencies about the gathering.

“The school districts knew this was happening,” Graziano said on Saturday. “If you know people are going to gather in celebration of something, please let us know in advance.”

The knowledge of the senior skip day by the districts has been refuted by school officials.

Seventeen local and state agencies responded to the shooting, and the department says they were thankful for the quick response from surrounding agencies.

SLED and the FBI are assisting the department in working through video and evidence in the wake of the shooting.