Gov. McMaster vows to keep pressing for tougher illegal gun penalties

Republican leaders at the State House say they are on board with the governor’s goal but note that getting this done is a bit more complex.
Published: Jul. 24, 2023 at 6:14 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 24, 2023 at 6:27 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is putting out a warning to state lawmakers: He cautions dangerous consequences could follow if they fail to enact stronger penalties on people who illegally possess guns.

For example, that includes people who possess stolen guns or are banned from having a gun because of a prior conviction.

For months, the governor has been calling for the state legislature to pass these illegal gun penalty enhancements, but it failed to get them to his desk before leaving Columbia, likely for the rest of the year.

“When people commit these gun crimes, those sentences must get bigger and bigger every time it’s repeated, and they need to jail,” McMaster told reporters during a news conference last week at the State House.

The governor’s comments followed a shooting in the middle of the day last week near downtown Columbia that caused hours-long road closures and business lockdowns.

Investigators say the suspect, 26-year-old Brandon Joyner, is prohibited from using a gun because he was on probation, but that he still had his hands on one that day.

Now Joyner faces a long list of charges, including 10 counts of attempted murder for shooting at officers.

McMaster has repeatedly made this call this year, including right after an April shooting on the beach at Isle of Palms left five people hurt.

Republican leaders at the State House say they are on board with the governor’s goal but note that getting this done is a bit more complex.

Tougher felon-in-possession penalties passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, but they were folded into a larger bill that would allow most adults in South Carolina to carry a gun with no required training or permit.

“Those were put together because it made the bill more palatable to the general membership, and the one thing we need to make sure of is that we secure our citizens’ constitutional rights to guns, and anything that whittles away at that might find some opposition here in the House,” Speaker of the House Murrell Smith, R – Sumter, told reporters on June 14, before the General Assembly adjourned for the rest of the year.

Republican leaders in the Senate said there was not enough support to pass that “permitless carry” or “constitutional carry” bill in the upper chamber, and attempts to pass the illegal gun penalties on their own or in other bills fell short.

“The gun penalties is something that we absolutely need to address. I wish we could’ve taken that up. Frankly, we didn’t have the votes to take that up. But that’s kind of where we are, and I’ve had that conversation with the governor, and I know he’s been making some phone calls, and hopefully if we can get some additional help in that area, we can get to a resolution,” Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said June 14. “That’s just something that’s going to take some work to try to figure out how to deal with that.”

The state legislature is out of session and not expected to be back in Columbia until January.

During last week’s news conference, McMaster was asked how he plans to keep this priority at the forefront when lawmakers return in six months.

“They will be at the fore because it is going to keep on happening until our legislature takes the action that I’ve asked them to take and others have asked them to take and close this revolving door on these careers criminals. It will continue to happen,” McMaster said.

Numerous law enforcement leaders have joined the governor in making this call, including SLED Chief Mark Keel.