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State lawmakers wisely ditch new gun bill

February 21, 2014 

  • In summary

    State lawmakers made the right decision in refusing to forward a Constitutional Carry bill that would have let residents carry guns with a permit or training.

In a rare show of restraint regarding guns, S.C. state senators on the Judiciary Committee rejected a bill that would have allowed residents to carry guns in public – concealed or in plain sight, with or without permits or training. One of the reasons for the bill’s defeat: It might hurt tourism.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, faulting Gov. Nikki Haley for endorsing the bill, said, “It’s irresponsible for the governor, when we’re a major toursim state” to back a bill that would allow people to carry weapons up and down the beach.

He’s right of course. Tourists, seeing South Carolinians in Speedos toting guns, likely would just keep on going down the road to Florida, where all they have to worry about is the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Other critics of the measure noted that it would put a heavier burden on police officers who might find it hard to distinguish between the law-abiding citizen openly carrying a gun and a terrorist or criminal carrying a gun. Under this measure, if police saw a man carrying a semi-automatic weapon into a movie theater, they would be powerless to act.

The bill would have allowed people to bear arms openly – without having first obtained a legal permit or undergone any training – just about anywhere. Even without passage of this bill, people now can carry concealed weapons into alcohol-selling establishments as long as – scout’s honor – they don’t drink, thanks to a bill that was among the first passed this legislative session.

“Criminals are dangerous, and ... every resident should be allowed to protect themselves from criminals,” Haley said in response to a question about the fears of some state senators regarding the bill.

But this so-called Constitutional Carry Act contains no limits on gun possession. It implicity contends that any effort – even requiring permits or training – to limit when or how people can carry guns is an unconstitutional infringement on the Second Amendment’s guarantee of a right to bear arms.

Thankfully, a majority of senators from both parties on the Judiciary Committee apparently thought that was a step too far.

Gun advocates would say a well armed public is both a deterrent and a protection against armed criminals. But the larger question is whether unrestricted carry makes the public safer.

But Haley’s simplistic premise doesn’t make sense. Allowing people the unrestricted right to carry guns, concealed or in the open, doesn’t necessarily protect us from crime. More to the point, it doesn’t protect us from each other.

Statistical evidence indicates that more guns result in more accidental shootings. We’ll take our chances with armed criminals; we’re more worried about the untrained Dirty Harry wannabe packing a .357 magnum in the grocery store.

The added trouble for police also is a significant issue. How would the cops figure out who is intent on doing us harm and who isn’t?

And what about the vigilantes who decide to shoot first and ask questions later – only to learn that they shot the wrong person?

Granted, South Carolina wouldn’t have been the first state to enact a Constitutional Carry law. Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Thirty-one states allow open carrying of handguns without a permit or license, though most restrict where those weapons can be carried (such as businesses that serve alcohol).

Nonetheless, S.C. state senators apparently decided that abolishing all restrictions on carrying guns would be a mistake. And even if their motive was as much to protect commerce as public safety, they made the right decision.

If the idea of guns on the beach is what dissuades South Carolina’s lawmakers from approving open carry with no limits, so be it.

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