COLUMBIA — How gun-friendly is South Carolina’s General Assembly? Consider: Even as the Congress and state legislators the nation over scramble to pursue gun restrictions in response to the massacre in Newtown, the only bills that have been introduced in our Legislature that could even remotely be considered anti-gun are one to eliminate our annual get-your-guns-without-paying-any-taxes weekend and another to hold adults criminally responsible when children use their unsecured guns to injure or kill.
It’s a stretch to call either anti-gun, although some gun advocates do. The first is more pro-rational-tax-policy than anti-anything, since anyone who studies taxation will tell you that all of these tax-free-weekends, regardless of what goes untaxed, are gimmicks that serve mainly to distract us from serious tax reform.
And the second is a logical extension of the idea that the problem isn’t guns but bad guys with guns. In order to make that point, one of the lines of legislation that gun advocates regularly pursue involves bills such as the one Rep. Mike Pitts introduced to increase penalties for criminals who use guns to commit crimes.
That’s a perfectly reasonable idea, and Rep. Shandra Dillard’s proposal is of a piece, because it doesn’t restrict anyone; it just adds a penalty when grown-ups are so irresponsible as to make it irresistible for children to engage their weapons in dangerous ways.
I’m not convinced that South Carolina needs tougher gun laws – with the exception of the child-safety law that isn’t really anti-gun despite what the gun lobby says.
But we don’t need more liberal laws, either.
Yet the State House is once again awash in proposals to arm more South Carolinians, and to extend the places they can be armed.
The most troubling, because it’s the one that could actually get some traction, would let people with concealed-weapons permits carry guns in schools. One version of this legislation would require an extra level of training, and approval by the school, for armed teachers; another would simply lift the prohibition on concealed weapons on school property, allowing anyone with a concealed-weapons permit to carry them, without even informing school administrators, much less getting permission.
Now it’s true, as gun advocates remind us, that people who get concealed-weapons permits tend to be more law-abiding than the population in general. But there’s no conclusive evidence – just competing, flawed studies by those on both sides of the argument – that more guns make for a safer society.
So there’s no clear advantage to arming teachers. And as SLED Chief Mark Keel told a Senate panel earlier this month, there’s a significant disadvantage: If police arrived at a school shooting to find civilians with guns, they’d have no way of knowing who was the shooter and who was the defender.
That’s a frightening scenario, and it’s just one reason Mr. Keel says he doesn’t know of a single police officer who supports the idea of protecting schools by arming teachers and administrators.
The most zealous gun advocates say you can’t trust the police. But really, do you think the police are your enemies?
A bill by Sens. Lee Bright and Kevin Bryant, in some ways less worrisome because it’s so much more radical, would allow anyone to carry a gun anywhere, concealed or not, except in private homes and businesses that specifically ban them. It goes out of its way to make it clear that only a “private employer” can prohibit guns on the property – which to me means that government employers can’t. Guns in school? Sure. Guns at USC-Clemson games? OK. Guns in courtrooms? Why not? Guns in the State House? Of course.
A bill by Sen. Larry Grooms would declare guns produced in South Carolina exempt from federal gun laws and any new federal law on semi-automatic weapons unenforceable in our state. This idea of nullification – which clearly is unconstitutional and which most people abandoned after the Civil War – was dreamed up by people who are convinced that any minute now, Barack Obama is going to storm their homes and confiscate their weapons. People, in short, who are as paranoid as the ones who shoot up schools.
Rational people realize that even if the president wanted to, the Congress is never going to allow things to go that far. And if somehow it did, then a silly little state nullification law isn’t going to stop that, even on the infinitesimally remote chance that it were to be deemed constitutional.
It would just make us look foolish. And waste even more of our tax money defending the new law in court when someone sues, as inevitably would happen. This from lawmakers who are always complaining about how much money we waste already.
These aren’t proposals from reasonable people. They’re from the minions of the gun-rights lobby that usually likes to flex its muscles just for the sport of watching our legislators hide under their desks, but right now is seriously worried about what might happen. Elsewhere, mind you, since no one is even proposing any new restrictions in South Carolina.
Yes, it’s possible that some states, and even the Congress, will pass some gun restrictions. But our Legislature isn’t going to do that, our Legislature can’t nullify anything the Congress does, and what other states pass doesn’t affect what’s legal in South Carolina.
Cindi Ross Scoppe is an associate editor with The State newspaper in Columbia.