In declaring an “open season” on burglars who break into homes, South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon has instructed all solicitors, sheriffs and police chiefs in the state to refrain from arresting “citizens acting to defend their homes” with a firearm or other weapon.

In a statement released yesterday, Condon’s office said the attorney general sent a memorandum to all state prosecutors and law enforcement officials warning them not to arrest or prosecute people who defend themselves with “deadly force” against a “home invader.”

The statement said the policy was necessary to protect citizens “in the wake of a rash of recent home invasions in North Charleston and elsewhere throughout the state.”

“As chief prosecutor of South Carolina, I am today declaring open season on home invaders,” Condon said. “That season is year round. Citizens protecting their homes who use force — even deadly force — will be fully safeguarded under the law of this state and subject to no arrest, charge or prosecution.

“In South Carolina, would-be intruders should now hear this: Invade a home and invite a bullet,” said Cordon, a Republican.

The state’s chief law enforcement officer also said “a recent rash of home invasions by gang members and other criminals” led to his decision, noting that gang activity “is rising sharply in South Carolina.”

He cited a string of recent break-ins in North Charleston, as well as an incident in Columbia — the state capital — “where a victim managed to fight off home invaders with a sword,” the statement said.

Also, Condon said that in Richland County, sheriff’s department officials believe four men have been responsible for over 90 home invasions in the past year alone.

The policy serves as a warning to potential burglars, Condon said, about what “faces them” if they attempt to break into a home. And, he said, the policy would serve “to let homeowners know their rights.”

The attorney general said existing case law in South Carolina “gives ironclad protection to the citizen in safeguarding his or her home.

“Inside the citizen’s home, there are no legal technicalities for the criminal to rely on,” he said. Courts have ruled that even deadly force may be used against a burglar “if such degree of force be reasonably necessary to accomplish the purpose of preventing a forcible entry against his will.”

Condon said the new policy would actually help the state’s police officers.

“Law enforcement officers cannot be everywhere at once,” he said, noting that armed citizens protecting their homes would serve as a deterrent to crime, and lower crime rates and property loss.

“Home invaders will think twice and even a third time” before breaking in, he said, “knowing [they] risk … their own death … on the other side of the innocent homeowner’s door.”

“The home is the family’s fortress of protection,” he added. “When at home, people rightfully feel they are standing on sacred ground. The citizen’s home is the line in the sand where criminals dare not cross.”

Condon’s policy appears to reflect the sentiment of most police chiefs and sheriffs across the country.

According to a 1999-2000 annual survey conducted by the National Association of Chiefs of Police, 93 percent of police chiefs and sheriffs who responded believe law-abiding citizens “should be able to purchase a firearm for self-defense or sport.”

Perhaps ironically, almost 95 percent of respondents did not believe the media is “fair and balanced” in reporting the news about police, firearms and other issues.

While most gun-control groups believe fewer firearms in circulation — as well as increased restrictions on private firearms ownership — would do more to reduce gun deaths and the violent crime associated with them, survey participants overwhelmingly disagreed.

Most police chiefs and sheriffs said better enforcement of existing laws — not new gun laws — would do more to reduce violence and gun deaths. Also, 88 percent said persons convicted of violating state or federal firearm possession laws should receive the maximum prison term for the offense.

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