Misfiring on gun 'education'

A gun free zone sign is posted at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas, on Monday, Sept. 10, 2012. Amarillo Globe-News, Michael Schumacher/AP

There were 12 fatal school shootings nationwide in 2014, but some South Carolina legislators are worried that the state's students don't hear enough about the benefits of guns.

State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, pre-filed a bill last week to designate Dec. 15 statewide Second Amendment Awareness Day. On that day, students would compete in a poster and essay contest followed by a three-week class on the Second Amendment and gun rights approved by the National Rifle Association.

Never mind that South Carolina students are already required to study the (entire) Constitution.

Rep. Clemmons' proposal would have schoolchildren celebrate their right to bear arms one day after the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 elementary school students and six educators were slaughtered in Newtown, Conn. If schools must celebrate firearms, pick another day to do so - one not in proximity to the anniversary of an act of unspeakable horror.

Rep. Clemmons announced via Facebook and an op-ed in The State newspaper that he hoped his bill would combat what he sees as overreaching "zero tolerance" policies in schools. He mentioned specifically the case of a Summerville High School student who was suspended earlier this year over an essay about buying a gun to shoot his neighbor's pet dinosaur.

That incident - which made national headlines - constitutes a truly ridiculous lack of judgment on the part of school administrators. But it has little to do with gun rights.

"Zero tolerance policies that target expression regarding firearms erode our Second Amendment protections," Rep. Clemmons wrote in his op-ed. His bill also includes language prohibiting educators from punishing gun-related expression at school.

Of course, the Second Amendment doesn't say anything about "expression" in schools or otherwise. Rep. Clemmons would do better to propose a First Amendment Awareness Day if his concern is gun-related speech.

Unfortunately, the Legislature's biggest gun proponents - including Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, who raffled off an automatic rifle in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy - appear to have considerably less respect for that amendment. Sen. Bright, for example, led a fight last session to withhold funding from the College of Charleston and USC-Upstate over gay-themed books required as freshman reading.

Sen. Bright is also concerned that South Carolina students might not be fully embracing their gun rights.

He pre-filed a bill in December that would allow state schools to offer elective courses in "firearm marksmanship" and gun safety. The class would include lessons on the "role of firearms in preserving peace and freedom" and the "constitutional roots of the right to keep and bear arms," among other topics. Similar legislation introduced by Sen. Bright last session failed to gain traction.

There's nothing wrong with attempting to prevent egregious abuses of state "zero tolerance" policies, and protecting free speech is always a worthy cause.

But guns just don't belong in schools.