HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Three students have been charged after threats were made to two separate Florence School District One schools during the first week of classes. With the topic of school safety on many parents minds as school is officially back in session, state lawmakers are working to make those threats a crime.
According to the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, in 2018, 93% of attackers in mass shootings made threatening or concerning communications prior to the tragedies. But law enforcement say they often have their hands tied. A bill sponsored by Senators Sandy Senn and Mia McLeod could change that in the state of South Carolina.
This bill is in an effort to catch those who are thinking of doing violence and prevent them from carrying out any threats. The bill would make it illegal to threaten or conspire to threaten to damage, injure, kill or destroy a building by use of a dangerous weapon in a school, church, public park or public gathering space. Lawmakers say current legislation makes it difficult for officers to act based on concerning behavior.
Jimmy Richardson, Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor, says this bill is something that’s needed to bring the state of South Carolina up-to-date. Currently, there are no laws in place that would combat school threats, especially when it comes to threats on social media. Richardson says this bill is something that’s needed because there is a gap between those who threaten to use guns and situations in which students threaten to blow up or attack a school. He noted that threatening to use explosives is already a crime, but specifically threatening the use of a firearm in schools is not.
“We do need a law that will sort of open up law enforcement to be able to at least get in there and investigate some of these charges, instead of just saying well, was it communicated? It is definitely a threat, but was it communicated? Did they use a phone? Did they describe a bomb? Right now it is very limited in what you can use. So, I’m all for trying to open that up. Technology has changed completely and young people just do not communicate over the phones as much as they do over some of these social media apps,” said Richardson.
This bill would give officers and deputies a more effective tool to hold students who make threats accountable. The penalties would range in severity according to the number of offenses and if the threat resulted in damage. For people who make threats without serious intent, Richardson says law enforcement will have to use their discretion.
The bill also specifies those who are charged must undergo a mental health evaluation as a condition of their bond, and if warranted, treatment or counseling.
This bill passed the S.C. State Senate in April and is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.