South Carolina lawmakers who regularly push for “open carry” laws are usually, in parlance, hopelessly outgunned.
Law enforcement, Democrats and moderate Republicans routinely sabotage legislation that would allow concealed weapons permit holders to openly carry guns in public. Happens nearly every year.
Each group has its own concerns: It would make life more dangerous for police, put business owners in the uncomfortable position of alienating customers and, frankly, scare the bejesus out of many folks.
This year there are even more complications: Two mass shootings in a week, and a new federal appeals court decision that says the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee unfettered gun rights. Which until a few years ago was prevailing legal opinion.
Still, open carry could become South Carolina law this year because of polarized politics and simple electoral math.
“The paranoia for making sure there is no government regulation is scary, and has a real possibility of passing,” says state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who’s helped stop these measures in the past. “They have an extreme agenda, and the Republican members who’ve normally been with us have been threatened with primary opposition. The math is different now.”
See, Republicans won a Senate supermajority in the last election, which means they have the votes to shut down those inevitable filibusters. That’s how the “fetal heartbeat” anti-abortion bill — another perennial Statehouse time-waster — got through the General Assembly (and was immediately blocked in federal court) this year.
Open carry is on the same path, even though many responsible gun owners believe this is less about personal protection and more about pandering … and intimidation. Concealed weapons permit holders can already carry guns; this just allows people to show them off.
Supporters say it deters crime and restores polite society. Opponents ask how they’re supposed to know that someone strapped in a grocery store or restaurant isn’t another lunatic about to go on a shooting spree.
Fair question, and part of the reason cops object. If they show up at a crime scene with a bunch of guys toting guns, how are they supposed to know the good guys from the bad?
Most lawmakers realize all that, and their hypocrisy is showing. When the House passed open carry this month, those who claim to oppose any infringement on gun rights nevertheless shot down amendments that would allow people to carry guns without a permit … or at the Statehouse.
Which basically says the risks are fine for folks in a department store … but not state officials.
And for years, lawmakers have cited the advice of law enforcement to oppose medical marijuana. But when SLED officials and police chiefs warn that open carry is dangerous ... crickets.
Some lawmakers are getting even more brazen. Last week, an ill-timed bill to flout any future federal gun regulations sailed through a Senate committee — a day after 10 people were shot and killed at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado.
The proposal would declare every able-bodied South Carolinian part of the state’s “unorganized militia.” Which is ironic, since gun regulation opponents usually ignore the part of the Second Amendment about a “well-regulated militia.” And this bill inexplicably calls for the opposite.
This all plays to unfounded paranoia about gun confiscation, and President Joe Biden gave that crowd an assist last week by calling for a ban on assault weapons. Never mind that the 1990s assault weapons ban didn’t include taking anyone’s guns.
Of course, this confiscation talk likely has about as much to do with commerce as politics. All those conspiracies do wonders for the sale of guns and ammo. Which is making it harder to go shooting at the range for some of us.
Most importantly, these legislators are also ignoring public opinion. A 2019 Winthrop poll showed (once again) that 80% of South Carolinians favor completed background checks before anyone can buy a gun. Pew Research Center polling shows similar attitudes.
But the Legislature refuses to close loopholes in background checks, calling it a “slippery slope” — that old canard.
Fact is, this is mostly the work of politicians scared of vocal partisans who can swing GOP primary races. Their considerable influence has already changed the Legislature, and brought us to this.
“People should ask why the General Assembly is preoccupied with issues like this when we rank consistently last in other quality-of-life issues,” Kimpson says. “We need to be concerned with economic opportunity, dealing with COVID, health care. Look at the polls: There’s a disconnect with the radical right.”
He’s right. But barring massive public dissent, you could soon see people carrying guns in South Carolina grocery stores, parks and restaurants.
Pretty much everywhere ... except the Statehouse.