A Senate subcommittee decided Wednesday it needs to work on a bill designed to change the state’s gun laws before it advances any further.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee discussed the bill Wednesday which clarifies the extent of an existing ban on gun sales to minors.
Bill sponsor State Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, told the committee he designed the bill to bring the state’s gun law in compliance with federal law.
“You have this conflict in federal and state law which creates a lot of confusion for law enforcement but more importantly, a lot of confusion for citizens,” he said. “If you’re a convicted felon, you can’t possess a firearm, okay? That’s federal law. You can’t do it. But our state law says something different.”
Although a major portion of the bill bans the sale of guns to citizens younger than 18, the subcommittee discussed the portion which prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms. Hembree’s bill would increase penalties for convicted felons who are caught possessing guns, something he said the state’s law enforcement community requested.
“The penalties for people that possess a gun unlawfully, that crime is just really not taken very seriously,” Hembree said. “It typically results in a fine even on multiple offenses.”
It would also create new tiered penalties for repeat offenders, rather than the current penalty applied to all violations.
State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he does not think someone who had been convicted of a nonviolent felony should be prohibited from protecting his home — years after his conviction — with a gun. “Once it’s over with, it shouldn’t be a lifetime sentence, forever, on something that wasn’t violent or you haven’t shown any proclivity to violence,” he said.
But Hembree warned the state may lack the ability to allow for such exceptions.
“Defending your home or business, I’ll tell you, I would gladly offer an amendment to exempt that possession from this statute,” he responded. “Now, that’s not going to get you off the hook with the Feds.”
State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, took the issue a step further and suggested the theoretical man convicted of breach of trust with fraudulent intent greater than $10,000 should not be banned from possessing a gun “if he wanted to take his son dove hunting.”
But while the bill goes back to staff for portions to be rewritten, Campsen said he does not want one single point of it to hold back the rest of the bill.
“I don’t want the best parts of the bill to not pass because right now we don’t have any — an offense with an attempt to possess, under state law. And we need those tiered penalties [for repeat offender felons charged with possessing a gun].”