‘Time to lead by example.’ SC members of Congress pitch gun reform plans

Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham says AR-15s and military-style assault weapons should never be in the hands of civilians.

And, the Charleston Democrat adds, he hopes Congress will act swiftly to restrict their sales and take up other “common sense” gun control measures like prohibiting the transfer of firearms without a background check at gun shows or between individuals.

“Right now, it seems like we have politicians up in Washington, D.C., who are putting special interests ahead of the safety of our children,” Cunningham said in an interview on Monday with The State before of attending an anti-offshore drilling rally in Mount Pleasant.

“As a gun owner and someone who has his concealed weapons permit and grew up around firearms ... there are common sense gun regulations that can be passed without infringing on people’s Second Amendment right,” Cunningham added.

The rally with environmental groups at Patriot’s Point was the Democrat’s first scheduled campaign event since the country was rocked by back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend.

Cunningham, a freshman legislator, called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, for refusing to bring to a vote a House-passed bill he and fellow S.C. Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn sponsored that closes the so-called “Charleston loophole” on gun background checks.

That loophole is a federal rule that says a gun purchase may go forward if a federal background check has not been completed after three days. That rule allowed avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine black parishioners at Charleston’s “Mother” Emanuel AME Church before an agent could complete his background check.

Cunningham, too, faulted McConnell for not bringing to a vote a separate House bill requiring universal criminal background checks for all gun purchases.

“The vast majority of Americans support background checks for the purchase of firearms, and here in Charleston we’re still trying to heal from the massacre that occurred at Mother Emanuel,” Cunningham told The State.

Later in the evening, Cunningham attended a downtown vigil to remember and honor those killed in the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

“It’s time for our elected officials to lead by example,” he said.

Cunningham added “this isn’t going to go away with just a single piece of legislation.”

“I don’t think there’s one, singular cure for this,” he said. “First and foremost we’re going to have to put an end to this divisive and hateful rhetoric that spews into our homes, through media and through our elected officials, through public officials.”

Other SC lawmakers call for action

Clyburn — the third most powerful Democrat in the House of Representatives — echoed Cunningham’s criticisms of McConnell’s failure to refer to committee gun control measures that passed the House by wide margins.

“Senate Democrats need to amend those bills and send them back to the House, and I’ll be the first one back in Washington to vote on passing them,” Clyburn said.

Clyburn, too, said he was dubious of President Donald Trump’s comments Monday that he’s committed to addressing gun violence.

Trump on Monday tweeted in support of passing strong background checks — potentially tied to a new immigration deal in the House and Senate — but did not mention the initiative specifically during his televised address.

“This has nothing to do with the immigration bill,” Clyburn said. “These are things that have enough substance to stand on their own. So why do we have to tie something that makes sense to something that makes no sense?”

Clyburn urged Senate Democrats to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 and ban the sale of high-capacity magazines.

Republican congressional leaders also weighed in.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, called for Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion “to close loopholes that allow sick people to have firearms,” including the Charleston loophole. He said lawmakers must “ensure law enforcement has all relevant information at their disposal to quickly determine if someone should be allowed to purchase a gun.”

“We also must address the rise of hatred in our culture that is plaguing our country,” Rice said in statement. “No one should be scared when they go to school, their place of worship, or to the store.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said he plans to offer a bipartisan “red flag” bill with the President’s support to help law enforcement prevent dangerous individuals form purchasing firearms.

After two deadly mass shootings in 24 hours, and just hours after Trump said he would back so-called “red-flag” laws, Graham announced Monday he reached a deal with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on a bill that would start a federal grant program to help and encourage states to create protection orders meant to allow law enforcement to intervene in situations where there is “an imminent threat of violence.”

“Many of these shootings involved individuals who showed signs of violent behavior that are either ignored or not followed up,” Graham said. “State Red Flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it’s too late.”

Graham, an ally of Trump, has long been a supporter of passing such laws, which allow family members to petition courts to issue protection orders to keep guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

He added that he spoke with President Trump Monday morning “about this proposal and he seems very supportive.”

The Seneca Republican said he intends to introduce the legislation “in the very near future” and that he hopes his “Republican and Democratic colleagues will join us to finally move forward in the effort to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

The president also condemned “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” in his televised address to the nation Monday.

“I appreciate President Trump’s strong statement rejecting hate and white supremacist ideology, urging us all to reject a culture of violence, as well as a call to action on multiple fronts,” Graham said.

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.