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'It scares the devil out of me': Sheriff Leon Lott fears more young people will die because of guns

The Richland County Sheriff says gun-related crimes are increasing in his jurisdiction.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Authorities are pleading with the community to stand together as gun-related crimes continue to increase. This week alone, News 19 reported multiple young people shot and killed in separate incidents.

West Columbia Police Chief Marion Boyce and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott sat down with News 19, as we asked how theses guns are getting onto our streets.

Tuesday, a 16-year-old was shot and killed, leaving two other teens wounded at Riverside Apartments. Last Saturday, 15 people were injured at Columbiana Mall, resulting in two men in their early 20s being arrested and charged.

A 17-year-old was shot and killed at a Garners Ferry apartment complex last weekend.

RELATED: Witnesses describe Columbiana Centre Mall shooting

Sheriff Lott said the number of guns on our streets continues to grow.

“What’s increased is the number of kids with guns, and the fact they are using these guns, that’s what has increased," Lott said. “It scares the devil out of me. Almost every day we have a shooting.”

Lott said guns are being stolen to commit crimes, and they’re being stolen from unlocked cars. 

“We have young people going through neighborhoods, just opening the door and getting a gun out, that’s how most of them are ending up on the street," Lott said.

RELATED: 'No mother should have to bury her child': Sheriff calls for end to gun violence

RELATED: 16-year-old killed, two other teens wounded in Columbia apartment shooting

West Columbia Police Chief Marion Boyce agrees, saying in 83% of the car thefts in March, the car was unlocked. 

“I can’t tell you how many reports I get of car break-ins that get their guns stolen from leaving it in their vehicle," Boyce said.

RELATED: 3 shot, including child, during exchange of gunfire in West Columbia

Boyce is pleading people to keep valuables locked inside their homes. "Do not leave your firearms in your cars.”

Lott said educating children is how we’ll save lives.

“Conflict resolution isn’t being taught anymore," Lott said. "What’s being taught is that, any problem you’ve got, you solve it with it a gun.”

Boyce said it all starts at home. “I’m a parent and I think it starts with us.”

RELATED: 'Something has to change': Richland County murders by gunfire doubled in 2021

RELATED: 'This is a public health crisis': Community leaders look to address gun violence

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