After a gunman opened fire at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, killing 9, police concluded the shooting constituted a hate crime. Twenty-one-year-old shooting suspect Dylann Roof, who was given a gun for his birthday, reportedly said, ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our county,’ before firing his gun. He has also donned shirts with country flags of racist African states in the past.
Similar to past shootings, the latest has already re-ignited the ongoing debate about gun laws in the state. After the shooting, for example, Fox & Friends advocated for more guns, arguing people could’ve defended themselves if they were armed.
“Had somebody in that church had a gun, they probably would have been able to stop him,” host Steve Doocy remarked. “If somebody was there, they would have had the opportunity to pull out their weapon and take him out.”
Today, South Carolina actually has a stringent firearm code, compared to the rest of the South — but its firearm death rate is steep.
Back in 2011, a state representative proposed a bill that would allow gun owners to carry firearms into restaurants, day-care centers, and churches. However, that bill was not passed, and guns are still prohibited in child care facilities and preschools, as well as churches or religious spaces, unless a church official or governing authority gives carriers permission to bring their weapons. Concealed carry is permitted, but people cannot bring guns to medical facilities, including hospitals and doctors’ offices, without authorization. Courts, law enforcement and correctional facilities, and athletic events are also off limits. And thanks to a law signed two weeks ago, domestic violence can come with a lifetime gun ban.
Other states in the region have weaker gun laws — particularly laws pertaining to religious establishments. Louisiana congregants have been allowed to carry concealed weapons in houses of worship since 2010. A Georgia law passed with bipartisan support says gun owners can bring firearms to church, as well as schools and bars. Alabama permits concealed weapons in church. A Baptist church in Kentucky actually passed out handguns, shotguns, and long guns, in honor of the Second Amendment. A Texas church also conducted gun training sessions to protect congregants from armed Mexicans.
Nevertheless, South Carolina has one of the highest firearm death rates in the country. Between 2001 and 2010, guns were behind the deaths of 5,991 people in the state. South Carolina’s previously received a D- grade for its lack of gun safety measures, and illegal firearm trafficking is a pervasive problem. Two years ago, the A.M.E. pastor and Senator Clementa Pinckney — who was killed last night — tried to improve gun safety in the state by pushing a bill that would force firearms dealers to conduct multiple background checks, to determine if a person is mentally fit to use a firearm.
But many leaders, gun activists, and Fox News pundits maintain gun armament can prevent future tragedies, even though extensive research says otherwise. The Harvard Injury Control Center concluded that more guns lead to higher homicide rates, which holds true across different environments. Gun advocates say household guns can protect women from domestic violence, although firearms actually increase the likelihood of being shot and killed at home. Proponents of weaker gun laws also argue guns on school grounds can prevent mass shootings on college campuses. However, the Journal of American College Health found that schools with more lenient firearm policies experienced more gun threats than schools that prohibit students to have firearms on campus.