News+Opinion » D. A. Smith

Just say no to guns at the Statehouse

Packing Heat

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Last June, state Rep. Keith Kelly (R-Woodruff) introduced a bill, H. 4243, that would not only amend the South Carolina Code of Laws to allow legislators to carry guns inside the Statehouse and the surrounding capitol grounds, but would let our elected officials pack heat while "on property owned, operated, or controlled by certain public and private educational institutions," as well as state office buildings and other facilities. Only General Assembly members who have a valid concealable weapons permit would be able to do so. To get a permit, applicants have to complete eight hours of handgun training and pass criminal and mental background checks.

Currently, there are 12 public servant types exempt from state restrictions on carrying personal firearms. These include all municipal, state, and federal judges and magistrates in South Carolina; solicitors; assistant solicitors; and workmen's compensation commissioners.

During the first half of the current session, state lawmakers overrode Gov. Mark Sanford's objections and voted in favor of $5.3 million in security upgrades to the Statehouse complex. At the time, I wasn't able to pin down an actual threat against the Statehouse and its folks, but this proposal was introduced after the Virginia Tech massacre. It would appear that Rep. Kelly and his ilk think they are either at personal risk during session or they're going to be late for a hunting trip after they haul ass outta Columbia on Thursday afternoons.

Kelly told The State, "I looked at the statute and wondered why members of the General Assembly can't carry by virtue of holding office."

Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) added, "Some of the odd mail that I get, some of the phone calls I get, some of it can be interpreted as a threat. I have a family to think about."

But apparently, not everyone in the General Assembly is buying Kelly's proposal. Sen. Kay Patterson (D-Columbia) told the AP, "We just don't need this bill ... If a person wants to have a weapon in his automobile for security, that might be all right, but not coming into the Statehouse and other public buildings. That's a bit much."

Kelly responded. "I don't think for a minute that (lawmakers) would bring (handguns) into a chamber."

I would hope that Kelly knows that all the bases can't be covered all the time — there are too many guns in the hands of law-abiding and non law-abiding people who think they know better than the cops.

A case in point would be at last Thursday's House Judiciary General Laws Subcommittee meeting where H. 4243 came up for discussion. Robert Butler of the GrassRoots GunRights, an organization that is pushing for a tax-free weekend for gun purchases, addressed the hearing and argued against the bill. Why? It would discriminate against all 53,000 concealed weapon holders in South Carolina.

In a letter, Butler asserted, "GrassRoots opposes the idea of special first-class citizenship for politicians while relegating the rest of us to second-class citizenship."

The subcommittee voted to suspend action on H. 4243. Apparently, the members want to fine-tune some elements of the bill.

Kelly, who leaves his guns at home when he drives to the Statehouse, says, "The idea is not to have a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral."

Maybe not, but there's a history of hot tempers in South Carolina politics.

Consider the 2004 fist fight between House members, the 1856 caning of U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the United States Senate, and most notoriously, the 1903 murder of The State's cofounder Narciso Gonzalez by Lt. Gov. James H. Tillman on the Statehouse grounds in broad daylight and in front of witnesses.

The lieutenant-governor was acquitted.

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