‘We are losing a generation:’ Richland County Sheriff, community leaders speak on gun violence

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Published: May. 26, 2022 at 4:02 PM EDT|Updated: May. 26, 2022 at 10:06 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the Midlands is “losing a generation” to gun violence.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference Thursday alongside elected officials, school officials and community advocates. Those in attendance formed what Lott referred to as a “united front” to call on the community to put a stop to a growing trend of youth violence.

This comes as guns are now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the nation, and the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that South Carolina has the fourth-highest rate of gun deaths among children.

“I’m very frustrated, very angry and very sad,” Lott said. “I’m watching too many young people lose their lives.”

RCSD said it has charged 28 people in 17 murders this year. The vast majority of those charged are under the age of 30, and 10 of those individuals are 17 or younger.

In 2021, RCSD handled 32 murders.

“Enough is enough, we’re tired of it,” Lott said. “Our community needs help.”

Lott said that some laws need to be tweaked to help address the problem.

“One of them is unlawful carry of a weapon,” he said. “It’s first offense regardless if it’s one time or if 100 times. If you go shoplift and you shoplift one or two or three times, it’s graduated every time. If you carry a gun illegally it’s not. So it’s first offense. That needs to be changed.”

Other ideas talked about as possible ways to curb youth gun violence were reevaluating bond for repeat offenders and investing in more after-school and summer programs to reach the youth where they are so that they do not turn to violence.

Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson characterized the issue as “another pandemic,” and said addressing gun violence in Richland County will require a collaboration from across the community.

“You can’t arrest away at this problem,” he said. “They’re going to do their job and they do it well. I’ll tell you, you can’t prosecute away this problem, you can’t legislate it away only, you can’t pray it away only, but together with all of us doing what we do well, we can make a difference and that’s what we are called upon to do.”

Senator John Scott, D-Richland, said SLED will be forming a juvenile task force and focusing on older individuals who are illegally giving guns to younger people.

Scott also said local school districts will be looking at ways to prevent children from bringing guns to campuses, and increasing students’ access to mental health resources

Richland County District Seven Councilmember Gretchen Barron said the council has put 40 percent of its $81 million in federal COVID relief funds towards community programs.

“Richland County is standing here united,” she said.

Three Richland School District One students have lost their lives to gun violence in just the last two months, the latest shooting this Saturday. RCSD has now made two arrests in that case, 16-year-old and a 17-year-old.

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In nearby Newberry County, four teens were shot and killed in two separate shootings this past weekend.

Illegal and stolen guns play a factor in the shootings in the Midlands.

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook has spoken passionately about the need to get illegal guns off the streets in the past, and the department is utilizing several strategies to combat this.

The most recent Columbia Police data shows that so far this year, the department has seized 311 firearms.

From January 1 through May 25, 2021, Columbia Police seized 369 firearms.

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