Gun restrictions

SC bill seeks to protect owning assault weapons

abeam@thestate.comFebruary 13, 2013 

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— Congratulations, you are a member of South Carolina’s “unorganized militia.” Now that you know that, state Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville, wants to make sure you have access to guns in case the governor ever calls on you to defend the state.

Corbin has proposed a new state law — unanimously approved Wednesday by a Senate subcommittee — that would guarantee all members of the unorganized militia “shall have the right, at his own expense, to acquire, possess, keep, and bear all firearms that could be legally acquired or possessed by a citizen of South Carolina as of December 31, 2012.”

Translated that means — barring an almost certain constitutional challenge if the proposal becomes law — you can buy an assault weapon, regardless of whether the federal government bans them, as President Barack Obama and others have proposed.

The proposed law is based on a state law, dating back to 1881, that refers to an “unorganized militia” made up of “all able bodied persons over 17 years of age.”

“All of us here can sit back and go, ‘Finally, I don’t have to worry about giving up my shotgun or giving up my Ruger pistol or whatever. It’s over,” Corbin said. “This bill just simply says it is now part of our unorganized militia’s weaponry, therefore it is protected. ... It can’t be changed by anyone outside of South Carolina.”

Nice try, but it won’t work, said Thomas Crocker, an associate professor of law at the USC School of Law.

It is true, Croker said, that South Carolina can specify weapons for its unorganized militia — a concept dating back to the 18th century, when states did not have modern police forces or National Guards. States then had laws requiring everyone to own a musket and be ready to fight against outlaws or attacking Native Americans.

“The trick is if the federal government enacts an assault-weapons ban, making it illegal to have the AR-15, that will trump automatically any state law,” Crocker said. “It doesn’t matter if the state statute says that is an approved weapon. It is an illegal weapon under federal law and federal law trumps.”

The country has been debating guns — which guns should be legal and who should have them — since the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in December. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to approve a ban of military-style assault weapons.

In an interview after the hearing, Corbin said his proposal is not a reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings or an attempt to preemptively nullify any changes in federal gun laws. But Corbin said he does disagree with people who blame guns for gun violence.

“It’s not the gun’s fault. It’s never the gun’s fault. It’s the person,” he said. .

“This bill is about defining our armament,” said Corbin.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he supports the constitutional right to own guns, adding that he owns gun. That’s also why, he said, he does not support Corbin’s bill.

“Don’t think anybody is coming to take my guns away. I know the Second Amendment protects me. I don’t know what’s the worry,” he said.

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