COLUMBIA, S.C. — The volunteer firefighter hailed as a hero for ending a deadly shooting rampage at a South Carolina elementary school minutes after a teen opened fire also carried a gun on campus, a violation of South Carolina law.
No one is suggesting charging the Townville hero, but Jamie Brock’s quick actions at Townville Elementary have some legislators calling to change state law.
The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed Brock had a handgun when he tackled the 14-year-old charged with killing his father before opening fire on a playground, fatally shooting a 6-year-old boy and injuring three others. It’s unclear if Brock even took his gun out of its holster. Authorities have not said, and Brock has declined to speak publicly about the shooting that devastated his small, rural town.
But under the “Safe Schools Act,” only law enforcement can carry a weapon — whether a gun, knife, pipe or “blackjack” baton — on the property of K-12 schools. It says people with concealed weapon permits must keep their gun locked inside their vehicle while on campus. Violating the law is a felony punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and five years in prison.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said he believes Brock’s situation is covered by the state’s stand-your-ground law, which says a person at a “place where he has a right to be” can use deadly force to prevent death or injury.
“Even if he had shot him, he would not have been charged,” said Martin, R-Pickens. “Technically, he would have been in violation of a gun-free zone, but the castle doctrine and the circumstances would have trumped that.”
Rep. Mike Pitts, a retired police officer, says the situation demonstrates the absurdity of the ban.
He said he will introduce legislation to exempt first responders with permits, providing the legal OK for them to carry their gun for defense when dispatched to a school. He expects the debate to be over the level of training needed.
Broader legislation allowing approved school employees to carry a concealed weapon or pepper spray has died repeatedly. While Pitts plans to again co-sponsor that idea, he hopes a separate bill limited to first responders will get widespread support in the Republican-control Legislature.
At Townville Elementary, Brock arrived with Fire Chief Billy McAdams before law enforcement. McAdams, a paramedic, went inside to tend to those shot. Brock found and tackled the shooter — and kept him down until deputies arrested him.
Pitts said “it’s quite natural” that firefighters would be first on the scene.
In rural counties, small towns often rely on sheriff’s offices for law enforcement, and a deputy may not be close by. But volunteer firefighters live in the community, he said.
“Anyone who potentially could be the first person on the scene — whether it’s EMS or fire department or law enforcement — should be authorized to carry if they want to,” said Pitts, R-Laurens, a retired police officer.
The bill’s opponents will include Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill.
Even trained police officers have shot people they shouldn’t, he said. “We don’t need to enhance things by allowing people to carry guns who are not even as qualified as police officers in assessing issues in our schools.”
King said the answer instead is for the state to fund an officer in every school.
The expense is unknown. While school districts contract with local law enforcement to put officers in schools, most elementary schools statewide lack an assigned officer.
“With the shooting and that dear, young child getting killed, it may open up the eyes of many in the Legislature to see the reality and put funding in place,” King said.
Meg Kinnard contributed to this report from Columbia, South Carolina.