Photo by Jay Rembert on Unsplash

Gunslinger Fantasyland 

 Armed vigilante justice: That’s just one of the selling points of a proposal to allow permitted South Carolina gun owners to strap pistols to their hips, according to the proposal’s author. 

The South Carolina legislature has never actually considered a bill to allow for “open carry” of handguns, as its supporters call it. Yet, Republican legislators are clamoring to approve a narrow-minded bill that even some of the state’s top cops oppose.

Supporters are calculated in calling the proposal “open carry with training,” but do not be fooled. The bill adds just nine words to state law, and none of them mention training, falling back on the state’s existing concealed weapons permit rules that have led to South Carolina being 12th in the nation for per-capita gun deaths.

The author of the fast-tracked, never-before-considered proposal to loosen the state’s gun safety laws? S.C. Rep. Bobby Cox of Greenville, a vice president for gunmaker Sig Sauer. Surprise!

“Open carry with training would allow citizens to respond when police weren’t able to respond during calls or weren’t able to respond as we saw during the protests this past summer in Charleston,” Cox told us last week.

You read that right. Unhappy with whatever the cops are doing? Show up ready to shoot someone yourself.

That’s exactly the situation Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds told lawmakers he’s hoping to prevent.

“It makes it hard for law enforcement officers to do their job when a large group of individuals are carrying guns,” Reynolds told the House Judiciary Committee last week.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel agrees and Charleston County Sheriff Kristen Graziano has said she opposes the bill, too.

To put it simply: More guns equal more danger, according to police. Lawmakers need to listen to them, not rush forward.

Nonetheless, the committee gave the bill an initial thumbs up.

Data on race already show Black people in South Carolina are shot by law enforcement at disproportionately high rates. Between 2014 and 2017, 47% of people shot by South Carolina law enforcement were Black, despite making up just 27% of the population, according to The Greenville News.

If we take law enforcement leaders at their word, open carry could make police interactions even more dangerous for Black people in South Carolina.

The truth is that Cox’s gunslinger fantasy could easily have turned a destructive night on King Street where no one was seriously hurt or killed into a bloodbath shootout.

Sounds primitive and barbaric, doesn’t it? Welcome to the Republican Party dreamworld of 2021. Amid a deadly pandemic that GOP leaders have spectacularly failed to respond to, we get new laws restricting abortion and relaxing gun safety.

In the Charleston area, S.C. Reps. Lin Bennett, Sylleste Davis, Gil Gatch and Mark Smith are co-sponsors of Cox’s reckless open carry bill. Visit SCStatehouse.gov to find their information and tell them this bill will make South Carolina more violent and more dangerous.