By Barney Blakeney...
South Carolina is a state with fewer than four million residents, about half the population of several major U.S. cities. Yet according to a new report South Carolina has the nation’s sixth highest rate for gun violence. And in Charleston County seven gun related homicides have occurred to date this year. Last week community leaders addressed those issues in two different forums.
In North Charleston Charleston state Rep. Wendell Gilliard and Charleston City Councilman William Gregorie participated in a roundtable discussion during which a new Center for American Progress report on gun violence in South Carolina was released. The report ranked states on 10 measures of gun violence.
As the nation’s sixth highest ranking state for gun violence, South Carolina also ranks seventh for gun homicides - five per 100,000 people in the state in 2010 - more than two times the national average.
The state has the nation’s second highest rate for aggravated assault with firearms. More people were killed in South Carolina by guns from 2001-2010 than were killed in both the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars.
Also last week Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley and Police Chief Greg Mullen held a press conference calling for officials in the state to push for legislation that would prevent repeat violent offenders from being released on bonds and from jail.
The press conference came after a 26-year-old man released on two separate bonds shot and wounded a Charleston police officer while trying to escape a traffic stop.
Mullen said for the past five years he and Riley have tried to push for legislation that would close the revolving door of bonding and releasing violent offenders.
Only a bullet-proof vest saved the life of officer Cory Goldstein from a gunshot to his heart fired by 26-year-old Mark Blake who was arrested last year for gun and drug law violations. He was arrested again in February for trafficking in cocaine and heroin. Each time Blake was released on bond.
Blake wounded Goldstein in an exchange of gunfire after the officer attempted to stop the car Blake was driving. Blake also was wounded in the exchange.
Mullen said a small number of criminals who continually are released on bond are committing crimes over and over again while out on those bonds. He and Riley hope a law introduced this year will allow judges to review and revoke bonds for suspects of crimes who already are out on bonds.
Also they propose increasing the sentences for multiple gun law violations. Currently illegal possession of a firearm is a misdemeanor no mater the number of offenses. Mullen and Riley propose the sentences be graduated to make the offense a felony with the third offense.
Gilliard and Charleston Sen. Robert Ford are among state legislators who have introduced bills to impact gun violence this year. Gilliard’s bill would define assault weapons and make it illegal for individuals outside law enforcement or the military to possess them.
Ford’s bill would allow county magistrates to adjudicate cases currently only handled through the circuit court system. More judges hearing cases would impact the vast number of suspects charged and released on bond, he said. Both bills are stuck in legislative committees.