Originally created 08/31/99

Tougher laws sought for illegally possessing guns



COLUMBIA -- Attorney General Charlie Condon said Monday he wants a mandatory five-year prison sentence without parole for anyone convicted of a violent felony who is caught with a gun -- a proposal that won the support of Republicans and Democrats, gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association.

Accompanied by Republicans Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler, House Speaker David Wilkins, Sen. Joe Wilson, Rep. Chip Huggins and Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, Condon said Palmetto Exile would impose a mandatory five year prison sentence without parole for:

  • Anyone in possession of a gun who has a conviction for a violent felony.

  • Anyone in possession of a gun while buying or selling large quantities of illegal drugs.
  • Anyone who brings a gun onto school property with intent to use it or who brings a gun to school and displays it in a threatening manner.

  • Wilkins said Palmetto Exile is different from other gun laws because it specifically targets criminals instead of putting blanket restrictions on gun sales and purchases.

    "Often in a knee-jerk reaction to tragedy, too many politicians advocate fighting crime by infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens. But it's not the law-abiding registered gun-owners who are committing these heinous crimes," Wilkins said. "Crimes are committed by the lawless and the reckless, and they're the ones we need to concentrate our legislative efforts on."

    Palmetto Exile is patterned after a Richmond, Va., program called Project Exile. Under Project Exile, local officials would turn gun-toting criminals over to federal prosecutors. Federal law provides a five-year minimum sentence for carrying a gun while committing a violent felony or a drug crime and mandatory prison sentences for any violent offenders caught carrying guns.

    Similar programs have been adopted in Birmingham, Ala., Oakland, Calif., and Rochester, N.Y. Virginia has adopted a state law mirroring the Richmond program, and several other states are considering similar laws.

    Nina Brook, spokeswoman for Gov. Jim Hodges, said the governor supports the Palmetto Exile proposal, and Project Exile has won praise from both sides of the gun debate.

    "Under this program, for the first time if you're an armed felon on the streets and get caught, you're going to jail. For the first time if you're carrying a gun and selling guns on the streets of America, under this program, you'll go to jail," said NRA spokesman Bill Powers. "Until Richmond, Virginia, and Rochester and ... a handful of other communities started adopting this program, that simply wasn't the case."

    Naomi Paiss, spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., said her group also has supported Project Exile since its inception, but said states need to do more to make sure guns never make it to the streets.

    "To install Project Exile and say, 'Ta-da, we have now fixed the gun-violence problem,' is incredibly shortsighted," Paiss said. "There are laws that can be passed that will help keep guns out of the hands of kids and criminals before you have people dying and families suffering."