Tighter, not looser, gun laws

Charleston County Library's main branch on Calhoun Street on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. (Wade Spees/Staff)

I’m scared to death,” said Naomi Bettis to a Colorado Springs dispatcher when she called 911 the first time on Oct. 31 to report a man walking suspiciously around her neighborhood carrying what appeared to be a rifle.

“It is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him,” responded the dispatcher after taking a description of the man. A few minutes later, the dispatcher ends the call saying that officers had been notified.

Ms. Bettis called again.

“He fired a gun at somebody and he’s laying on the street dead,” opens the second 911 call from Ms. Bettis. “Some guy was just riding his bike … and the guy started shooting him.” By the time that Colorado Springs police gunned down the shooter, he had killed three people in cold blood.

Those senseless deaths resulted in no small part because Colorado is one of 45 states that allow citizens to visibly carry guns in public.

Not surprisingly, Colorado’s open carry law can cause potentially deadly confusion for the state’s emergency responders.

“If we get a call from a citizen about a person who has a firearm in plain sight and they are not acting in a suspicious manner, they have not brandished it, discharged it, or violated any of the previous conditions; CSPD will not respond,” reads Colorado Springs Police Department policy.

South Carolina is currently one of only five states with an outright ban on open carry. But the tragic Colorado incident hasn’t dissuaded state legislators from supporting laws that would expand residents’ right to carry firearms in public.

The Second Amendment Empowerment Act, which passed overwhelmingly in the South Carolina House during the last legislative session and is slated to go before the Senate in January, isn’t an open carry law per se. The proposed law would restrict the display of weapons in public for all but a few reasons, like hunting or practicing at a firing range.

But it would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. That would eliminate an existing training requirement, which mandates SLED-approved instruction before a permit is issued.

There are currently more than 250,000 South Carolinians with concealed weapons permits, according to SLED.

Even without the Second Amendment Empowerment Act, South Carolina’s training requirement is weak. Lawmakers eliminated the 8-hour minimum instruction period in 2014, allowing trainers to decide when they think a permit applicant is sufficiently prepared.

Get a weekly recap of South Carolina opinion and analysis from The Post and Courier in your inbox on Monday evenings.

The change was part of a bill that also allowed concealed weapons to be carried in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, opened up online applications for concealed weapons permits and removed a requirement that applicants submit fingerprints before renewing their permits, among other changes.

But even the strongest gun rights advocates ought to recognize that allowing minimally trained citizens to carry deadly weapons in public is a recipe for disaster.

Public opinion trends seem to back that up. In the wake of hundreds of deadly mass shootings — including one in Charleston that left nine men and women dead in June — over the past few years, polls show most Americans favor slightly stricter gun laws such as requiring universal background checks and restricting gun ownership for people with a history of mental illness.

Those are sensible measures.

The tragedy in Colorado Springs offers the clearest possible example of how overly permissive gun laws threaten public safety. Simply put, there is virtually no legitimate reason for anyone to openly carry a deadly weapon in a residential neighborhood, a city park, a bar, a school or most other public places.

And there is no good reason for the law to allow it.