Originally created 05/12/00

Official touts benefits of gun program

AIKEN - Armed with a gun control proposal he claims really works, South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon told Aiken County Republicans on Monday night that his Palmetto Exile program would get criminals with guns off the streets.

"We will lock up for five years any violent offenders who illegally carry guns. It will be a full-scale war to disarm criminals in South Carolina," Mr. Condon said.

The program he calls Palmetto Exile would provide a mandatory prison sentence for convicted violent offenders possessing a firearm, drug dealers caught with a gun, and people carrying a gun on school grounds with the intent to do harm.

The mandatory sentence would be tacked onto that given for any other offense the suspect might be convicted of, whether it's armed robbery or a traffic offense.

"Anybody who has been convicted of a violent crime should not be in possession of a firearm," Mr. Condon said.

Mr. Condon claimed that Palmetto Exile, modeled after a similar program in Virginia, would not interfere with a resident's right to bear arms but would go after those who use firearms illegally.

"Citizens have a Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but convicted criminals, drug dealers, and those intent upon harm at school have no business being near firearms," he said.

The plan has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and NRA spokesman Wayne La Pierre called on Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate for president, to commit to "$50 million to fund the program on the national level."

President Clinton promised $5 million for a similar national program.

However, in the budget currently making its way through Congress, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, raised the amount to $37 million, Mr. Condon said.

Texas Gov. George Bush, GOP candidate for president, has initiated a similar program in his home state.

Scott Beck, legislative liaison for Mr. Condon's office, said the proposal has received broad support in both the state Senate and the House.

"If it doesn't get through this year, it will be up early next session," he said.

He said Palmetto Exile would enable law enforcement officers to stop potential gun crimes simply by making a routine traffic check and finding an illegal gun.

He also admitted that it takes away judicial discretion by requiring a mandatory sentence.

"Under the proposal, these gun offenders would be unable to get a pardon, a judge's order or an exception to restore their right to possess a gun.

"Once Palmetto Exile takes a criminal's gun away, nothing can give it back," Mr. Condon said.

Reach Pat Willis at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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