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home : opinions : opinions August 1, 2014

10/23/2013 8:40:00 AM
Why S. C. should resist federal coercion on gun laws
By Shane McNamee


Despite its gun-friendly citizenry and reputation, South Carolina  law doesn’t go out of its way to protect Second Amendment  rights. Ours is one of only six states that impose an outright ban  on all forms of handgun “open carry,” for example, and one of  only three states that prohibit concealed weapons permit (CWP)  holders from carrying weapons into restaurants that sell alcohol.

Unfortunately, state law isn’t the only thing South Carolina  gun owners need to be concerned about. Another is federal coercion.

The only gun-related legislation passed by the legislature in  2013 –it passed the House by a vote of 100 to 13 and the Senate  by a vote of 33 to 5 –has the effect of barring gun ownership  for those deemed to be “mental defectives.” It has since come  to light that the State Law Enforcement Division has received a  $900,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice to help  improve the state’s use of the National Criminal Background  Check System. In fact, SLED applied for the federal grant shortly  after the legislature passed Act 22 barring “mental defectives”  from gun ownership.

The lesson here is simple: Do what the federal government  wants and your state gets money. Don’t do what they want, and  have funds taken away.

State acceptance of federal money to help enforce gun control  measures is alarming enough –even if the grant wasn’t conditioned  on South Carolina passing a mental health gun control  bill. But the fact that the federal government is willing to furnish  funds to enforce state gun control measures may well weaken  resistance among state legislators to future acts of gun control.  Further, federal authorities may attempt in the future to tie more  agency grants to state acceptance of new firearm restrictions,  or they may threaten not to renew existing grants unless new  firearm restrictions are implemented.

The current administration in Washington has made no secret  of its desire to curb gun rights. In January the administration  released a multitude of new gun control proposals –some of  which required Congressional action and some of which could  be implemented unilaterally by the executive branch. These proposals  include: (1) universal background checks for all firearm  sales and more sharing of background data from states, (2) reenacting  the “assault weapons” ban and limiting magazine capacity,  (3) new directives and increased funding for research on gun violence,  (4) enhanced safety standards for gun locks and gun  safes, and (5) laws specifying that doctors may ask patients  about guns in their homes and increased funding for mental  health initiatives.

What’s interesting about these initiatives is that one proposal  has effectively (no. 3) has undermined the rest. A directive was  issued to the Center for Disease Control to carry out a study on  the causes and prevention of gun violence. This study’s results,  released in June, have been less than favorable for advocates of  increased gun control. Among the study’s findings:

The majority of gun-related deaths between 2000 and 2010  were suicides, not homicides.

Defensive use of firearms is common, with most studies estimating  between 500,000 and 3 million defensive uses annually.

Unintentional firearms deaths accounted for less than 1 percent  of all accidental deaths in 2010.

Most criminals obtain firearms in the underground economy  outside of the influence of gun control measures.

Concerning the effectiveness of gun control measures –bans  on specified firearms or ammunition, restrictions on firearm acquisition,  waiting periods for firearm acquisition, firearm registration  and licensing of owners, and zero tolerance for firearms in  schools –evidence is insufficient to determine their effectiveness.

The findings of this new study are consistent with two other  major gun control studies released by the National Academy of  Sciences and the Center for Disease Control in 2004 and 2003,  respectively, as well as research conducted by Harvard University.  None of these studies could find any gun control measures  that meaningfully reduced violent crime or gun violence.

In addition South Carolina’s new law, the prohibition of “mental  defectives” from owning firearms, is extremely unlikely to  have any significant effect on violent crime. Studies have found  that only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be  attributed to individuals with mental illness. Also, the vast majority  of those who commit violent crimes obtain their guns through  informal means –which largely mitigates the effects of any outright  prohibitions on gun ownership. If anything can reduce violent  crime committed by the mentally ill, it’s likely to be early detection  and treatment of mental illness.

Before state lawmakers enact any further gun control measures,  they should study the current research on the likely effectiveness  of such laws. The real choice isn’t between safety and  individual rights but between federal dollars and safety rhetoric,  on the one hand, and state sovereignty and individual rights on  the other. The right choice is plain.

Shane McNamee is a policy analyst for the South Carolina  Policy Council




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