As 2013 comes to a close and people make resolutions for 2014, S.C. legislators' thoughts return to ... guns.
Some are looking for ways to make the state safer from gun violence. Some are more concerned about gun rights.
Fifty-four members of the House have sponsored a bill that would prohibit health care providers from asking patients about firearm ownership. It was 58, but four removed their names. Presumably, those four remembered something about citizens' right to free speech.
A Senate bill would exempt from federal regulation any firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition manufactured and retained in South Carolina.
A bill that passed the House and is pending before the Senate's Judiciary Committee would disallow the state from pursuing incentives provided by federal law or through an executive order by the president that might infringe upon a person's right to bear arms. No "proposed universal background checks to further restrict the purchase or ownership of guns" for South Carolinians.
Depending on whom you ask, South Carolina's gun laws are either among the most lax in the country or the most restrictive. The national Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave South Carolina an "F." But the South Carolina Policy Council pointed out that this is one of only three states that does not allow legitimately purchased weapons into any place that serves alcohol.
A House bill deserving support would reverse the unnecessary and inappropriate tax exemption on gun purchases during Second Amendment Weekend (beginning at 12:01 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving and ending at midnight that Saturday).
Another worthy House bill would stiffen penalties for offenses involving certain weapons, including assault weapons,
And a Senate bill of merit would require a person convicted of criminal domestic violence to surrender his firearms.
During the spring session these bills and others were considered. Only one gun bill was passed. It bars people determined to be "mental defectives" from owning guns, and it was inspired by an incident in Charleston where a mentally unstable woman tried to fire a gun at people in front of Ashley Hall school.
South Carolina legislators aren't alone in their gun rights zeal. The New York Times reported that two-thirds of state legislation enacted since the Newtown massacre a year ago loosen restrictions.
Sadly, the nation continues to see gun violence, so battles over related legislation will continue to persist. School shootings are particularly alarming. Since 1999, when 12 students and one teacher were killed at Columbine High School in Colorado, more than 90 people have been shot to death in the nation's schools and on school campuses.
If ever there was a good time for substantive, rational discussions about gun laws, this is it. Next session shouldn't be a time for political grandstanding or promoting the NRA's political agenda at the expense of reason.
When the S.C. Legislature convenes in January, members should express their convictions, but never lose sight of why the discussions are taking place: not just the students, teachers and principals who were gunned down in schools but the multitude of others who also have died in senseless shootings.
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