Andrew Dys

Gun violence -- who's to blame?

A teen is shot dead outside a party, a bullet in the head. Nobody has been caught. A 52-year-old man shoots a friend three times in the deep of night, police say. Bullets in the chest and head. One of York County's most beloved principals, a lady who gave her whole adult life to other people's kids, is shot twice by her own daughter, police say.

All in York County in the past several weeks.

If whomever shot that teen didn't have a gun, maybe the teen wouldn't be dead. Might be the same for the dead man. Or the wounded principal.

Is getting rid of handguns the answer?

Hell no, legitimate gun owners say. Anyone bent on violence could grab a pipe and start wailing, put a knife into somebody's neck or smash somebody's skull in with a brick.

The Constitution is clear, gun advocates say. The right to bear arms.

"People buy guns to protect themselves," said Darren Nichols, owner of Nichols Store, one of York County's largest sporting retailers. "Legitimate gun owners go through background checks. Everything is above board. If somebody who can't buy a gun, like a convicted felon or someone convicted of criminal domestic violence, tries to buy one, we call the police."

Yet gun control advocates say that the more guns are out there, the more likely gun violence will happen. South Carolina has the 13th most guns of any state in the country per capita, said Josh Sugarman, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, an anti-gun lobby. The problem is not hunters and their rifles, Sugarman said, but handguns like the ones used in the recent shootings.

"America's gun problem is a handgun problem," he said. "A knife or something else allows other means of escape. They allow for a change of heart. A handgun is spontaneously lethal."

Yet even if handguns were outlawed, advocates for protecting private property and family say criminals would still have access to millions of handguns already out there on the streets. Guns are stolen all the time, police say, then used in crimes.

"There are laws on the books to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, but that doesn't mean they don't get guns," Rock Hill Police Lt. Jerry Waldrop said.

New handgun sales require a trigger lock be given to the customer, Nichols said. But people who already have guns aren't required to have locks.

Yet passionate gun owners say that locks really protect burglars.

"So many people want to blame the gun, not the person," said Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, a gun owner and advocate who vowed to try and block any attempt to soften state handgun laws. "If you outlaw guns, the only people who will have the guns are the outlaws. I have three children. I also have firearms. And I'm not changing."

Nichols said every time there is a shooting in the community, it makes legitimate gun owners look bad.

Yet there is the idea that if a gun wasn't there, legitimate or not, somebody wouldn't be dead. The handgun in the shooting of the principal came from a gun safe in the home, said Lt. Tim Hager of the York County Sheriff's Office.

In April 2003, a 16-year-old Rock Hill kid took a gun from a young friend. That friend had taken that gun from his grandfather, police said. That gun ended up shooting 12-year-old Dontavius Thompson in the heart. The 16-year-old got 10 years for involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors conceded the 16-year-old didn't mean it.

Thompson got life in the ground.

It is unclear how the system will handle the three most recent shootings. The family of the two dead are left with their grief. The principal is recovering in a hospital.

And the gun debate goes on.