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Charleston mayor calls for stricter gun laws after church shooting

Mayor Joe Riley says access to guns is too easy in South Carolina, which has 10th-highest rate of gun deaths in US

South Carolina has some of the most relaxed gun control laws in the country, and a deadly mass shooting Wednesday night at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston prompted calls by the city’s mayor for stricter gun control laws.

“I personally believe there are far too many guns out there. And access to guns — it’s far too easy,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told The Washington Post. “Our society has not been able to deal with that yet.” Riley, a longtime supporter of gun control legislation, is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of city leaders calling for stricter gun laws. 

The state made a rare effort to restrict access to guns on June 4, when Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law the Domestic Violence Reform Act, which bars people convicted of assaulting their family members or partners from buying or possessing firearms.

Advocates working to end gun violence in South Carolina say the Charleston shooting shows that much stricter laws are necessary. “South Carolina needs to focus on keeping guns out of dangerous hands, which would help prevent future tragedies,” Sylvie Dessau, the state chapter leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement released Wednesday. “It’s time we stand up for the safety of South Carolinians and work to reduce gun violence that continues to claim too many lives across the state.”

FBI statistics show that despite an 11.7 percent drop from 2012 to 2013, South Carolina’s violent crime rate, with 494 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, remains well above the national rate of 367. It has the 10th-highest gun death rate in the U.S., the Law Center for the Prevention of Violence reports.

Federal authorities announced on Thursday the arrest of a suspect in the shooting, Dylann Roof. His uncle Carson Cowles told Reuters that Roof’s father gave him a .45 caliber pistol in April as a 21st birthday present. Authorities have not yet disclosed any information about the weapon used in the attack.

South Carolina law has no requirements for registration or permitting for any weapons, except for carrying handguns. In a state with stricter gun laws, Roof would have needed to obtain a permit to legally receive and possess a firearm as a gift, according to William Rosen, a lawyer with Everytown, a national gun control lobby. 

Rosen praised the recently passed South Carolina legislation, which prohibits abusers from purchasing weapons, even before a conviction, while they are under a restraining order. “Certainly that law was a step in the right direction,” he said.

But he said that there are significant loopholes in the law and that the standard for taking away the right to possess or own a gun was too high. “You have to have really hurt someone to be under an automatic and permanent prohibition,” he said.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement released just after the Domestic Violence Reform Act was passed, the gun rights group said that it had concerns that some of the language in the law might infringe on citizens’ right to bear arms. 

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