Second Amendment activists gather at Statehouse rally in midst of domestic violence debate

About 100 Second Amendment activists gathered at the Statehouse on Saturday to push for gun rights in the midst of the General Assembly’s debate over taking guns from convicted abusers. Thad Moore/The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Second Amendment activists rallied Saturday at the Statehouse, three days after the Senate voted to bar anyone convicted of a high-level domestic violence crime from possessing guns.

About 100 people gathered outside the capitol holding signs, flags warning Don’t Tread on Me and even a pitchfork. The rally was planned before the Senate took up the domestic violence bill, organizers said. But, for some, the passage of the gun ban underscored why they were holding the rally.

“Our timing couldn’t be better,” said Andrew Miller, state coordinator of Gun Rights Across America, which organized the rally.

Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg Republican who was one of three Upstate senators who voted against the domestic violence bill, attended the rally along with three other lawmakers.

“When it comes right down to it, we’ve got to fix this house,” Bright told the crowd, gesturing to the Statehouse behind him. “We’ve got problems in South Carolina.”

The gun ban was hotly contested during Senate debate, and was passed only after a compromise was reached that requires a judge’s approval to take away firearms in the least serious domestic violence crimes. The measure still needs to pass the House, where the bill does not include a gun ban.

Federal law already barred anyone convicted of domestic violence from possessing a gun, but victims advocates argued that a state ban was needed to enforce the law.

Bright called the gun ban an “assault on the Second Amendment,” but not all those who rallied to defend gun rights disagreed with taking guns away from abusers. A February poll found that 76 percent of South Carolinians would support a law that kept convicted batterers from acquiring guns.

“We have laws, and you have to respect those laws,” said Heath Jones, a 35-year-old from Irmo.

Tony Oravec said he also had no problem with a judge stripping Second Amendment rights from a convicted abuser. But, he said, it should only apply after someone is convicted.

The effort to strengthen domestic violence penalties and bar batterers from having guns has been credited to the The Post and Courier’s series last year “Till Death Do Us Part,” which found that more than 300 women in the last decade were killed by their husbands, live-in boyfriends and exes.

Speakers and others at the rally also expressed frustration with other restrictions on guns, including requiring a permit for a concealed weapon and bans on guns on school campuses.

“We should have a little more freedom,” said Joshua Cook, an activist who spoke at the rally.