- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The Senate’s judiciary chairman pledged Thursday to hold a hearing this summer on legislation extending the allowed time for background checks on gun sales, though he expects them to go no further.

Sen. Larry Martin made the promise while persuading senators to advance a bill on concealed weapon permits. It came after Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, reiterated his pledge to block any pro-gun bill “until we have a hearing.”

That hearing will cover several bills aimed at closing the loophole that law enforcement officials say allowed Dylann Roof to buy the gun used in last summer’s Charleston massacre.

Martin apologized on the Senate floor for previously refusing to schedule one, saying he was merely being pragmatic about bills he knew had no chance of passing. A mid-session hearing would have invited national attention and unnecessarily overburdened his staff, he said.

“I messed up. I’ll admit that,” said Martin, R-Pickens. “There was no slight. … I don’t want people thinking I’m unreasonable.”

Martin said he may schedule the hearing in Charleston. But, to be clear, he still opposes the measures and expects them to fail if re-introduced next year.

“I don’t think it does any harm to let folks come in and testify,” he said.

The Senate then voted 36-5 to give priority debate status to a bill recognizing Georgia’s concealed weapons permits, ultimately so that state will recognize South Carolina’s. The House passed the bill 101-5 last month.

“We have a long border with Georgia. It stretches from the mountains to the sea. We should’ve done this a long time ago,” Martin said.

Earlier Thursday, Kimpson told more than 100 people protesting gun violence outside the Statehouse he would hold up the concealed permit bill in his fight for “commonsense legislation to have meaningful background checks.”

Attendees of the “Hands Around the Statehouse” rally called on legislators to pass laws that prevent criminals from getting guns. They held on to ribbons and posters to form a link and attempted, unsuccessfully, to circle the Statehouse.

Victims’ names read at the rally included the nine Roof is charged with killing at historic Emanuel AME Church following an hour-long Bible study.

Roof’s drug arrest in February 2015 should have prevented him from buying that gun, but data entry errors meant a background check didn’t produce the pertinent details in time. Federal law gives the FBI three business days to tell a gun dealer if someone can’t legally buy a firearm. Once that window expires, as in Roof’s case, the sale can proceed by default.

Proposals pre-filed in December would extend to 28 days the allowed time for reviewing criminal records. There would be no waiting period for applicants whose background checks come back clean.

“It’s not an infringement on the Second Amendment. It’s common sense,” said sponsoring Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville.

A separate proposal pre-filed by Kimpson, which will also be on the hearing’s agenda, would require a background check, no matter how long it takes.

“We made some progress today,” he said.

Other bills proposed by Kimpson would require people to register their guns and acquire a permit before buying a gun. Those two will not get a hearing. Kimpson said he recognizes those ideas aren’t supported by most South Carolinians in this gun-friendly state.

He said he will still try to use Senate rules to block debate on other pro-gun bills the House has passed.

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