Once upon a time the issue seemed to be convincing students that phoning in bomb threats to schools was no joke.
Then came 9-11 and terrorism – and an epidemic of very real attacks on schools. The law got tougher on offenders.
Two teenagers in Orangeburg County found out what a price there is to pay. In 1999, both received jail terms of one to six years for making bomb threats to two local schools. Cases of threats to schools elsewhere in the region resulted in arrests.
State law strengthened in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks calls for up to 10 years in prison for a bomb threat. Making a threat is a felony and constitutes threatening to kill, injure or intimidate individuals or damage and destroy property by means of an explosive or incendiary device.
But what of today’s menace and threats made over social media to attack schools with guns in the fashion of the recent Florida shooter?
In court on Thursday, Oranegburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell called the case against a 23-year-old man accused of posting social media threats to open fire at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School very serious. He asked that the man be held without bond.
“This is a serious act to be involved with and especially at a time such as this when the nation seeks answers. We have our answer to this individual. He’ll face a judge and the utmost justice,” the sheriff said.
But just how much “justice” awaits the man should he be found guilty is debatable.
Orangeburg County Magistrate Derrick Dash said he is “deeply disturbed” by the incident. “If it were in my power to do something different, I would.”
He set bond and the case will proceed – in magistrate’s court because the charges of disturbing schools and unlawful communication are misdemeanors.
“I think he is a danger to the community,” Ravenell said. “This is a very serious time after the incident in Florida.”
And that is why some lawmakers in Columbia don’t see the charges and potential punishment fitting the crime.
They want to strengthen laws against threatening schools. And though consideration of such could be called reactionary, the issue is due serious examination.
A Senate panel on Thursday approved a law that would make it a crime to threaten to cause damage, injury or death with a “dangerous weapon or instrument” at a school.
But the proposal continues to make a threat or a threat that results in property damage misdemeanors. Only when the threat results in injury or death would the case become a felony. The misdemeanors would carry fines and up to two and three years in jail, respectively. The felony conviction could mean up to five years in jail.
The debate may now focus on whether the proposed punishment is sufficient for the crime, but there should be no disagreement on the need to clarify and strengthen the law to make threatening schools a specific offense.
At present, a person convicted of unlawful communication faces a maximum of 30 days in jail. Disrupting schools has a maximum penalty of 90 days.
While the extent of punishment can and should vary based on circumstances of a case, the two charges resulting from a threat such as the one at O-W do not sufficiently address the severity of the offense of threatening schools.