COLUMBIA — South Carolina shootings in which at least four people have been injured or killed have increased since the murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last summer, according to a review of records by The Greenville News.
The Charleston murders, which shocked the state and nation, were seen as unique because of the number of victims killed, the randomness of the act and what authorities said was the racist motive involved.
A flurry of gun-control legislation was pushed or filed after the murders and the state was praised for the way it addressed the shootings with prayers, talk of racial reconciliation, forgiveness by the victims’ families and the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds.
But shootings involving multiple victims were not unique to the state before the Charleston murders and have only increased since, according to a review of records in the Gun Violence Archive, a national research database of such crimes.
From June 17, 2014 through June 17, 2015, according to the database, there were seven such shootings, including the Charleston murders, killing a total of 13 and wounding 25.
In the year afterward, there have been 10 such shootings, with a total of 14 killed and 25 injured.
Some lawmakers said they were not surprised at the numbers.
“It’s not surprising to me and unfortunately, I think you will see that number increase in the future,” said state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Charleston Democrat who has taken to the Senate floor this year to decry gun violence. “The political rhetoric on both sides, the level of frustration and the sense of reckless disregard of human life that people have today is problematic and troublesome for our society.”
Rep. Mike Pitts, a Laurens Republican and former Greenville police officer, said he would have to examine the database records to comment on them but would not be surprised at any increase.
He said the state has serious problems with drugs and domestic violence. And South Carolina, he said, “has always been a violent state.”
According to crime data collected by the FBI in recent years, South Carolina has been among the most violent states in the nation, though it’s numbers have decreased and the number of murders in the state is about half what they were in the 1970s.
The FBI categorizes violent crime as murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery. In 2012, South Carolina ranked fifth highest highest in the nation with a violent crime rate of 558 such crimes per 100,000 people.
The following year that rated dipped to 494 and the state’s ranking slipped to sixth. In 2014, the latest year for which FBI data is available, the rate increased slightly to 497 but the state’s ranking slipped to seventh. The national violent crime rate in 2014 was 365.
South Carolina’s 311 murders that year ranked 19th highest and several of the state’s cities, including Greenville, had violent crime rates more than double the national violent crime rate, according to groups that analyzed the FBI data.
According to a report by the Center for American Progress, from 2004 to 2013, 6,461 people were killed by guns in South Carolina, 20 percent more than American combat deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
Viewed in that context, the occurrence of multiple victim shootings is not unusual.
The circumstances around them vary from domestic violence to nightclub fights to suspected drug involvement. They occur in parking lots, on streets, nightclubs and private homes.
“People used to get in a fist-fight and now they have a gun,” Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, told The News last year. “They don’t de-escalate. They don’t try to talk it out. They pull a gun. And we see more and more of this type of activity.”
When Greenville County sheriff’s deputies answered a call to the 200 Block of Eastview Road in Pelzer on Sunday afternoon, April 17, they found a man dead in the front yard, shot in the chest. Three other shooting victims were found inside the house.
Investigators at first suspected a home invasion, based on the call. But after interviewing witnesses, a spokesman said investigators believed the victims were familiar with the suspects and the shootings may have occurred over a dispute about money in a drug deal.
On May 17, Charleston County deputies rescued a woman from a man with a gun outside a mobile home. Then they checked inside and found two women and an 8-year-old girl shot to death. The rescued woman had been shot in the leg. Authorities classified the shootings as a domestic violence incident.
One of the women killed was pregnant with twins that authorities said died because their mother was shot.
The man charged in their murders had been accused of domestic violence the year before but the charges had been dropped.
It was the third shooting since the Charleston murders in which there were at least four victims and multiple deaths.
The other two shootings have yet to be solved.
In one, a couple and their elderly mothers were shot to death in November of 2015 in the couple’s home outside Pendleton in Anderson County.
In July 2015, authorities responded to a call about gunshots at a Holly Hill home in Orangeburg County. They found one man dead in the front yard, two teenagers shot to death in a bedroom and a female shot to death in another bedroom. An 8-year-old boy was wounded. Authorities searched for a Mercedes believed to be connected to the incident and found it burned 15 miles away. Last month, authorities arrested two people and charged them with obstruction in the case but thus far no one has been charged with murder.
According to Gun Violence Archive, there were 53,312 gun violence incidents in 2015 nationwide, resulting in 13,438 deaths and 27,017 injuries.
Those numbers are an increase from 2014, according to the database, when it recorded 51,820 incidents, 12,591 deaths and 23,024 injuries.
Mass shootings, incidents the database defines as events in which at least four people were killed or wounded at a single location, excluding the shooter, also were up, from 277 to 332.
So far this year, 7,089 have died and 14,614 have been injured in gun violence nationwide, according to the database. That includes 179 mass shooting events.
Among those who have repeatedly talked about the nation’s problem with gun violence is President Obama, who came to Charleston last summer for the eulogy of Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel who was among the nine killed.
“The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people,” he said in January “We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close. And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.”
Pitts said he thinks violence sometimes runs in cycles. He’s not sure lawmakers can do anything to stop or reduce it with new laws.
“I’m a firm believer the laws we currently have on the books for guns work,” he said. “Passing more gun legislation wouldn’t change it. The only way you can change it is to magically wave a wand and eliminate all guns and we’re never going to do that. I think better enforcement of the current laws probably would help.”
Kimpson disagrees about being able to change things. He’s pushed for a hearing on legislation to expand the waiting period for background checks to purchase firearms beyond the current three days. A public hearing is expected sometime later this year in Charleston.
He said the culture is thick with talk of violence and guns and a seeming inability to solve conflicts without violence.
“It’s not a civil discussion,” he said. “There’s a reckless disregard for human life.”
He said mental illness, poverty and being able to use non-violent means to resolve conflicts all play a role in shootings.
It’s incumbent upon leaders, he said, to do something about the problem of gun violence.
“I hope we have the political will to elevate the discussion, not just about gun reform but conflict resolution and addressing mental illness and providing health care for those who don’t have it and increasing the standard of a livable wage, because some people have given up hope in our society. They see no way out.”