On June 17, it will be four years to the day since a white supremacist opened fire at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in a hate crime that killed nine Black churchgoers. As we approach the anniversary of this tragedy that rocked the Charleston community, we must take stock of what happened, and honor the memory of those who died by recommitting ourselves to the fight to end gun violence once and for all.
All too often, easy access to a gun is what makes a hate crime deadly. Over 10,300 hate crimes involving a gun occur in the United States every year. Here in Charleston, the shooter’s ability to buy a gun without a completed background check was the difference between life and death for nine people who were shot and killed while they worshipped. So it is essential that we have the courage to pass laws that would prevent people with violent intentions from buying firearms.
Since this tragedy, a growing number of people in South Carolina have turned their grief into action and decided to do all they can to prevent gun violence. I have watched with pride as South Carolina voters from all walks of life visit the Statehouse to attend rallies and legislative committee meetings advocating for reform. And this month, hundreds of South Carolinians gathered in cities across the state to host events for Wear Orange Weekend, a national event raising awareness of this issue and honoring the lives of those killed by gun violence.
But with gun violence killing 100 people every day in this country and wounding hundreds more, there is so much more we need to do to keep our communities safe. My hope is that we can use this momentum to support common-sense gun legislation that will truly save lives. On the state level, we need to close the Charleston loophole, the gap in our laws that allows people to purchase a gun from licensed gun dealers without completing a background check if the background check takes longer than three business days to complete.
This is not a partisan or controversial issue. It’s a simple, sensible policy that most South Carolinians fervently agree on — and one that would not inconvenience law-abiding gun owners. Nearly 90 percent of background checks are completed in minutes. That’s why I have pushed for a bill that would close this loophole. Although the bill has stalled each of the three years I’ve introduced it, we will keep working with community partners, gun safety advocates, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle until we can pass this vital legislation — I will not stop.
Beyond the state legislature, we must urge our members of Congress from both political parties to support a federal Red Flag law, which would allow family or law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily suspend a person’s access to guns when there is evidence that they pose a serious threat to themselves or others. I am encouraged by the work of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham on the overall issue of universal background checks.
The shooting at Emanuel AME Church left a permanent mark on the Charleston community. As I reflect on the tragic shooting that cut nine lives short four years ago, I find hope and inspiration in the gun violence prevention movement growing across our state.
Marlon Kimpson is an attorney and Democratic state senator representing District 42 in Charleston and Dorchester counties.