SC lawmaker wants stricter penalties for illegally carrying guns

A state lawmaker wants tougher penalties for people caught illegally carrying handguns.
A state lawmaker wants tougher penalties for people caught illegally carrying handguns.(Storyblocks)
Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 4:52 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 19, 2022 at 5:33 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - After two mass shootings in South Carolina over the last weekend, including one in his own district, a state senator is calling for toughened up penalties for people who illegally carry guns.

Sen. Dick Harpootlian (D-Richland) says he doesn’t want to make illegal anything that is currently legal. Instead, he wants to stiffen up the consequences for something that’s already unlawful here in South Carolina.

People convicted of illegally carrying a gun currently face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Harpootlian says that is not enough.

“I was a deputy solicitor and solicitor for 12 years. I’ve prosecuted my share of cases, and I’ve defended my share of cases,” he said. “This course of conduct is so epidemic that it is challenging and destroying the fabric of our society.”

Harpootlian’s calling for increased felony penalties, to a minimum one-year mandatory sentence and a maximum of five years, for anyone unlawfully carrying a pistol.

His appeal comes days after two mass shootings in South Carolina – and a few weeks after one 12-year-old shot and killed another at a Greenville middle school.

“We’ve got to get aggressive about this. More people were killed, especially young people, by pistols this year than fentanyl,” he said. “It’s just ridiculous that we get so aggressive on the war on drugs but do nothing about this epidemic of young people carrying guns.”

Bond would also be set by a circuit court judge instead of a magistrate and solicitors wouldn’t be able to reduce the charge if someone was illegally carrying.

Harpootlian says he plans to introduce this legislation soon. He says it wouldn’t affect South Carolinians’ ability to legally carry weapons.

“If you have a pistol permit, that’s fine, although you can’t carry a pistol into the mall. It’s posted. You can carry it hunting or fishing; you can carry it to and from your home; you can carry it in your car if it’s in the glovebox,” he said.

There are four weeks left in this legislative session to introduce a bill and get it passed through both chambers, an extremely tight window.

But Harpootlian believes it does have a chance, saying lawmakers from both parties have already told him they want to get on board.

Sen. Sandy Senn (R-Charleston) told Harpootlian she believes penalties should also be increased for each time someone’s caught carrying illegally.

“We have attempted several times in this body to get such a measure passed, and I would certainly welcome any opportunity to help you in that regard,” she said.

The shooting in Harpootlian’s district was the one at Columbiana Centre on Saturday, leaving nine people shot and six others with other injuries.

Harpootlian points out that mall doesn’t allow anyone to carry a weapon inside, whether or not they have a permit.

The second shooting over the weekend happened Sunday morning at a club in Hampton County. That shooting left at least nine wounded. The attack happened at Cara’s Lounge in Hampton County, according to South Carolina’s State Law Enforcement Division.

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