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