COLUMBIA — The U.S. Constitution guarantees us freedom of religion. But that doesn’t mean that parents can withhold critical medical care from their children because their religion tells them to. It doesn’t mean that men can beat their wives – or have two wives. It doesn’t mean that communities can sacrifice virgins to their gods or impose sharia law on their members.

In all of these cases and countless others – including, yes, freedom of speech and freedom of the press – we understand that an individual’s constitutional right sometimes must give way to the safety and well-being of others.

Modest, reasonable restrictions on guns are no different, as our nation has always recognized.

South Carolina is not hostile to guns. South Carolina is not even neutral toward guns. South Carolina is pro-gun. We encourage people to buy – and use – guns, by giving them an annual tax holiday on guns and ammunition.

Buy a knife, and you pay taxes on it. Buy a book on building bear traps, and you pay taxes. Buy a gun, at least during our statutorily designated “Second Amendment Weekend,” and you pay no taxes. What that means is that those who do not buy guns and ammunition effectively subsidize your purchase.

What restrictions our state places on guns are modest, and reasonable.

There is no permit required to purchase or own a gun. There is no gun registration. Cities and counties are prohibited from imposing any sort of restrictions on guns. There are no state restrictions on the number of guns or the type or amount of ammunition that anyone can purchase. We don’t even have a law that holds parents criminally responsible when their minor child grabs their loaded pistol off the kitchen table and kills himself or others.

We do prohibit people from carrying their guns into certain delineated buildings and into businesses or homes if the owners tell them not to, and we prohibit the possession of automatic firearms and short-barreled shotguns and rifles.

It’s possible that we prohibit individual ownership of nuclear weapons, although I didn’t see a specific code section when I did a quick search though the statutes.

In Congress and in some states, there are serious debates under way about imposing restrictions on gun ownership. Not in South Carolina. In South Carolina, what we have are efforts to emasculate the extremely modest gun laws that we have.

What we have are proposals that are so clearly unconstitutional that I can’t help but wonder if Stephen Colbert hacked into our legislators’ computer network and filed parody bills in the names of some of our more radical legislators.

Like the bill to gag doctors, in effect telling business owners what sort of conversations they can have with their customers – customers who are free to do what customers have always done if they’re offended by what a business owner says to them: take their business elsewhere.

I can just imagine where the idea originated: Our uber-sensitive, constitution-loving gun owners are cowering in a waiting room, stuffed animals and ABC blocks strewn at their feet, terrified that their pediatrician might ask them if they own guns. Sweat dripping down their cheeks, they bolt from the office, toddlers in tow, race to their legislator and beg him to strip the doctor of her constitutional rights. Lest they have to man up and tell her it’s just none of her business.

Our uber-sensitive gun owners read into the constitutional protection of a “well regulated Militia” the individual right to carry any kind of weapon they want, anywhere they want to carry it. They say they have to arm themselves against our government. They say they can’t trust the police.

They say it’s their God-given right to carry their guns into bars.

Now, there’s a smart idea, isn’t it?

In the Senate, a few of the more radical senators have bullied usually rational senators into supporting their bill to let people with concealed-weapons permits take their guns into bars and into restaurants that serve alcohol. Senators hope to take it up for debate today.

I have nothing against concealed-weapons-permit holders; they tend to be law-abiding citizens. But goodness, where is the logic here? We don’t go around encouraging drunks to drive home; we do the opposite. So why in the world would we encourage people to carry loaded guns into bars? The same thing that makes usually responsible people dangerous when they get behind the wheel after drinking too much also makes them dangerous when they go out drinking with the boys, with a loaded pistol in their belt.

Supporters say the bill (SB.308) provides “stiff penalties” for people who violate its provisions – mainly, drinking while they’re armed. But in fact it slashes from three to two years the maximum sentence currently in the law for illegally carrying firearms into businesses that sell alcohol.

The bill does give bar owners the right to order gun-toters to leave. Isn’t that generous of our lawmakers? To allow bar owners to kick out armed drunks?

Of course, I wonder how many bar owners will want to try that? Unless they’re armed too. And a pretty good shot. (Note to self: Stay away from bars, and restaurants that sell alcohol, if this bill becomes law.)

Uncontent simply to turn our bars and restaurants into the OK Corral, the no-balancing-of-constitutional-rights crowd is pushing another bill that would turn the whole state into the Wild West, by allowing anybody to carry a weapon anywhere they want to. Without a permit. Without any background checks. Without any training. Because the way they see it, having any sort of requirements infringes on their God-given rights.

I’ll be sure to let you know when they file those bills reinstituting polygamy, and allowing pagans to sacrifice a virgin to the gods every spring.

Cindi Ross Scoppe is an associate editor with The State newspaper in Columbia.