What is it about ‘wacky’ Palmetto State and guns?

The South Carolina Statehouse

COLUMBIA — Where would the “Daily Show,” Huffington Post or dozens of liberal blogs be without South Carolina?

Palmetto State lawmakers never disappoint, it seems, when it comes to introducing bills restricting abortion rights, attacking same-sex marriage or championing the right to bear arms that get some of their fellow Americans riled.

Most, if not all, of the proposals will never see the light of day, much less be approved, according to political observers. But that doesn’t keep them from becoming fodder for comedians and pundits around the country who seize on them to portray South Carolina as a backwater still living in the 19th century.

For example, there’s the gun-rights bill prefiled by Myrtle Beach Republican Rep. Alan Clemmons designating Dec. 15 “Second Amendment Awareness Day.” It also would require three weeks of instruction in every school in the state on the Second Amendment, the hotly debated constitutional right to possess weapons.

Critics had a field day with it after the Huffington Post ran it. They hated the idea of indoctrinating children in what they called a culture of violence. They called it a waste of time because state law already requires students to be taught about the Bill of Rights — all of them.

Clemmons also didn’t do himself any favors by picking Dec. 15, the day after the anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., shooting in which 20 students and six faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Clemmons said he had no idea when he proposed the date that it was the day after the Newtown anniversary. He plans to change the date before the bill is considered but doesn’t apologize for being a proponent of gun rights.

His proposal, he said, was prompted by headlines about a Summerville High School student being arrested and suspended for writing an essay about getting a gun to kill his neighbor’s dinosaur.

“As I looked into it, I became concerned because it highlighted an issue that I believe is rampant in our schools today and that is, with zero tolerance policies regarding anything related to firearms, healthy discussions of the Second Amendment have been stifled,” Clemmons said. “That’s scary to me because that means that we have a generation of students who are not being taught about the Second Amendment, who are graduating from high school ignorant as to the history of the Second Amendment and its current place in our society today.”

Clemmons’ bill has been praised and ridiculed nationally, nothing out of the ordinary for any gun-rights measure.

What’s different is the Internet brings a lot more attention and media coverage, said Scott Buchanan, a political science professor at The Citadel.

“A lot of these bills that are filed, they are intended to be red meat for their base,” Buchanan said. “They don’t stand much of a chance, if any at all, of passing, but if you’re a representative, you can go back to your district and say, ‘I filed this bill.’ ”

Part of the blame falls on how districts are drawn here and nationwide, he said. The majority of districts are overwhelmingly one-sided. So if elected officials don’t listen to their very liberal or very conservative constituency, they stand to lose come election time, Buchanan said.

Another reason these bills get filed is because they’re “look at me” bills, said Tyler Jones, spokesman for the House’s Democratic Caucus. Jones was openly critical of Clemmons’ bill on social media, as the bill gained national attention.

“There’s always going to be the wacky bills from the wacky members,” Jones said. “It’s the same with (Sen. Lee) Bright as it is with Clemmons. They are in very conservative districts and that gets them re-elected.”

Bright, R-Roebuck, introduced a series of abortion and firearms-related bills, including one which allows for school districts to offer an elective on “firearm marksmanship” designated as the “South Carolina Gun Safety Program.”

Bright said one of the biggest complaints he’s heard is that people aren’t trained to handle firearms, an issue that can be solved if the training is offered in schools in a responsible manner, he said.

But bills like these make the state seem foolish, as if its residents are more concerned about children learning how to shoot guns than everything else going on, said Kendra Stewart, political science professor at the College of Charleston.

“Bills like these certainly make South Carolina look like we’re behind the curve or ignoring issues of safety, because of more traditional beliefs and values that aren’t really reflected in other parts of the country as they are here,” Stewart said. “It really perpetuates the stereotype of South Carolina being a state still stuck in the past.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.