Most S.C. legislators know the claims that having more armed citizens makes us all safer are at best wishful thinking, at worst dangerously wrong — as demonstrated yet again Feb. 11 when yet another report came out indicating just the opposite, with the highest per-capita gun deaths in states with the most permissive gun laws and the lowest death rates in the states with the least permissive laws.
But the gun lobby is vocal, persistent, well-heeled and extremely influential in Republican primary races, and many of our legislators are afraid of the political consequences if they don’t sufficiently support the arming of our society.
So with guns-on-every-street-corner advocates pushing for their paradoxically named “constitutional carry” bill (if people had a constitutional right to carry any gun they wanted anywhere they wanted, there would be no need for a law authorizing it), a lot of legislators are supporting an “open carry” bill to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their handguns in plain view.
It seems to a lot of lawmakers like a smart strategic move — a significant liberalization of state gun laws that could take some of the wind out of efforts to let everybody carry guns openly everywhere they want to, without any required training or permits or background checks or anything.
And so H.3094 easily cleared a House subcommittee on Wednesday, even though the supporters who spoke in favor of it were vastly outnumbered by the concealed weapons permit holders, doctors and police officials who warned that it would encourage aggression and assist in intimidation efforts and make it nearly impossible for police to tell the good guys from the bad guys. So much for legislators’ claims that they respect, support and want to do all they can to protect police; that lasts only as long as police don’t point out how things lawmakers want to do would endanger them.
In fairness to supporters, South Carolina’s concealed weapons law seems not to have been the disaster many predicted; there’s good reason to believe that most permit holders are law-abiding citizens who are unlikely to get into shootouts just because someone insults them. And certainly, if we had to liberalize our gun law, we’d much rather expand how people can carry weapons after they take a course and pass a test and a background check and register with SLED than to just go all Wild West.
We don’t need to liberalize our gun laws.
And we shouldn’t liberalize our gun laws.
Supporters say H.3094 would simply bring South Carolina in line with the 45 states that allow people to carry handguns openly. That argument is at best misleading, because what “open carry” means is different in most states. In Hawaii, for instance, it means people can carry an unconcealed handgun if a police chief issues them a permit in an “exceptional case,” and then only in that county. Utah makes the list because state law allows people to carry an unloaded handgun in public. Other states impose geographic restrictions.
Beyond that, the argument is reminiscent of, “but Mom, all the kids are doing it.”
And passing open carry in hopes of deflating extremist demands for a repeal of our state’s modest gun restrictions is sort of like renaming all the roads and buildings that were named for George Washington in an effort to appease the extremists who demand that we tear down all the monuments to our first president.
Both ideas should be nonstarters.
— The Post and Courier of Charleston