Something needs to be done about gun violence in the United States. As innocuous and axiomatic as that statement seems, the politics surrounding this issue has made any type of meaningful gun legislation a non-starter at federal and state levels, despite the recurring loss of innocent human lives.
The recent mass shooting in San Bernardino recalls our own horrific massacre here in Charleston this past summer. These tragedies beg some type of response, but legislative action by and large has been absent. However, in South Carolina at least one legislator is trying to change that.
Recently state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat, pre-filed five gun control bills in the General Assembly in an effort to strengthen background checks, ban certain types of assault weapons, and require lost or stolen weapons to be reported. But make no mistake, Kimpson’s comprehensive gun-reform package will face stiff headwinds in a Republican-dominated legislature, regardless of how much the bills deserve serious consideration and debate.
As a package, none of the bills would impede or limit lawful gun ownership by law-abiding citizens. The intent is to make it more difficult for criminals to unlawfully obtain a deadly weapon. However, because opposition to any type of gun control has become a conservative litmus test, which opponents use to arguably show their support of the Second Amendment, many Republican legislators will not consider supporting the bills.
The fact that Sen. Kimpson is proposing any new laws at all to address the problem is itself an important step. When it comes to this issue of gun control, the paralysis of inaction has been a frustrating side-effect of the politicized discussion. Because gun ownership has been promoted as an absolute, inviolable right by the gun lobby any attempt to restrict or limit gun ownership, even to those on terrorist watch lists, has been met with opposition. A rare exception to that has been South Carolina’s own Boland Bill, which was designed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. That law, introduced by state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, shows that where there is the political will, some legislation can be enacted in South Carolina, even if the impact is slight.
It is true that no gun control bill will prevent all future mass killings in the United States or prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. Many individuals who are intent on committing gun violence will often find non-legal means to obtain a weapon, the favored route of the criminal element in our society. But those facts alone should not prevent us from trying to do something, nor does it mean that we should avoid any attempt to keep weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
If the citizens of this state are dissatisfied with recurring gun violence, then we have the ability to pass laws to address the problem. The other option is to do nothing to address the problem, to preserve the status quo. We know from comparing our high rates of gun violence in the United States to the rates of other countries that it is possible to have a civilized society with far less shootings. Sen. Kimpson’s gun reform package is a step in the right direction and it helps start a discussion which we need to have all over this country.
When over 20 young children were mercilessly gunned down at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, the real tragedy was that lawmakers voted down a reasonable bill on background checks due to pressure from the National Rifle Association. Hopefully in South Carolina, we can react to our tragedy differently and enact some legislation that will prevent such an incident from ever happening again.
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