South Carolina’s state Senate, having no more pressing matters on its hands, has approved a bill permitting guns in bars. It thereby takes the Palmetto State almost to the level of enlightenment enjoyed by the Great Southwest in the civilized days of Judge Roy Bean, who styled himself the “law west of the Pecos.”
A modern-day Billy the Kid would feel right at home in such an environment, so long as he was able to outdraw Sheriff Garrett and to stay out of jail. Even in those days, gun-owners were generally forbidden to carry their guns into jail.
One senator introduced an amendment to the bill that would have remedied that oversight. He proposed that South Carolina gun owners be free to carry their weapons in public without permits or prior training.
“Our constitutional rights are God-given,” declared one senator. “Government needs to get out of the way.”
I’m not sure when the right to carry a gun into a bar became God-given. I don’t recall anything in the gospels about carrying a gun, but you can reason that gun-toting is scripturally sanctioned. When Jesus said “He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword,” he made no mention of guns, and one would expect him to include guns if he meant it. The Constitution does mention guns – well, at least arms – though there’s no mention of God.
The bill the Senate approved contains one provision that the most faithful of the gun lobby might consider a shredding of the Second Amendment: It does not permit people to drink and carry a gun at the same time.
In other words, the Second Amendment applies only to the sober. I don’t recall anything in the Constitution that would deny that fundamental right to those who choose to imbibe.
The bill would allow patrons with concealed-weapons permits to carry their shooting irons into a bar, but they would face stiff fines it they were to partake of strong drink during their visit. And, drunk or sober, the gun-toter would have to stash his piece outside the bar between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.
I can hear the bartender’s announcement now: “Gentlemen, it’s five minutes to 12. Any shooting must be done before the clock strikes midnight. After that, all guns must be checked at the door.”
The proposed South Carolina law would greatly infringe on the free exercise of two basic rights: the right to enjoy a snort and the right to tote a gun.
Since most people go into a bar to drink, this bill would deprive gun-toters of their main reason for going. It appears to me that the only remaining reason to carry a gun into a bar would be to shoot somebody. Since there are fewer witnesses around between midnight and 5, it forces the shooter to complete his mission at an inconvenient time. I don’t know why the NRA isn’t up in arms, no pun intended.
It’s a well-known fact that sometimes people who go into bars get rowdy after a few drinks. That’s no argument against carrying guns into a saloon. Everybody knows that if guns were forbidden, the fighting would be done with knives, and if no knives were permitted, the brawlers would use broken beer bottles.
In fact, songwriter Billy Hughes and the great hillbilly philosopher Red Foley provided a strong rationale for arming everybody. In the song, “Tennessee Saturday Night,” Hughes wrote, and Foley sang:
“When they really get together there’s a lot of fun
‘They all know the other fellow packs a gun
Ev’rybody does his best to act just right
‘Cause there’s gonna be a funeral if you start a fight.”
You can pretty well rely on South Carolinians to keep their guns holstered, since the state is famous for its ability to hold its liquor and its temper. When Preston Brooks, a worthy congressman from the Palmetto State, chose to chastise one Charles Sumner, a ranting representative from Massachusetts, on the floor of the House, he showed restraint. He neither drew his sword nor fired his gun. He beat the loud-mouthed abolitionist unconscious with his walking cane.
The bill that passed the state Senate would not require such forbearance. It presumably would allow legislators to draw their guns in the heat of debate.
I don’t know what fun-loving bar-crawlers would do for excitement if they were forbidden to carry their guns with them. They might appoint a “designated shooter” who would carry his piece and refrain from drinking, but that would mean that both the sober designee and his drinking buddies would be deprived of a fundamental right: the designee to drink to his heart’s content and his buddies to tote firearms.
The Senate’s action was by no means unanimous. South Carolina, it was noted, ranks near the top among the states in gun-related violence, domestic violence and the deaths of law enforcement officers. One senator suggested that the backer of the guns-anywhere-at-any-time amendment was “not going to be happy until we are first.”
I think most of the state’s lawmakers would be content with being in the top five.
As another gun supporter put it, “Either we are for the Constitution or we think it is a dated document.”
That’s the position the state took when the abolitionists tried to abolish slavery, even though the Constitution clearly permitted it.
The gun-toting solons are fortunate that the United States Senate recently voted against stringent background checks aimed at denying gun ownership to the mentally deficient.
They don’t need to worry about possibly being declared ineligible to own firearms.
Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco.com. For more of Gene’s writing, go to www.wadesdixieco.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.