Since our Statehouse reporter Corey Hutchins first learned that the No. 1 item on the Lege’s agenda was a bill allowing concealed weapon permit holders to bring firearms into bars and restaurants, we here at the City Paper have been wondering exactly how this particular bill came to be the General Assembly’s preeminent concern for 2014.
Yesterday, on the day that Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law, Corey posed that question and tried to answer it. It’s a good piece. However, I’m now beginning to question what he was told.
When Corey asked the bill’s primary sponsor, state Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Summerville), why he introduced the bill, Bennett noted that the bill wasn’t even at the top of his list of things to do. In fact, Bennett intimates that he wouldn’t have written the bill if he hadn’t been asked by constituents:
“I didn’t come to Columbia with this piece of legislation at the top of my agenda,” Bennett says. “My agenda is economic development, job creation and low taxes and all that good stuff. But, as you know, you’re faced with requests, and sometimes you introduce legislation that maybe isn’t on the top of your agenda, but is on the top of others’.”
So the people of Summerville wanted it? Fair enough. But the bill was but the latest in a long line of similar pieces of legislation that didn’t pass muster in the gun-loving, GOP-dominated Statehouse. And given that Bennett was a freshmen senator — a true low man on the toilet bowl — it seemed unlikely that he had a strong influence over his fellow legislators, Republican and Democrat alike.
I mean, newbies don’t normally introduce important bills, especially not ones that are hot button issues like this. They keep their heads down and do whatever their Statehouse masters tell them to. (It’s worth noting that at least two of the bill’s initial sponsors were freshmen senators, Greg Hembree and Katrina Shealy.)
But yesterday, a curious thing happened. The NRA showed up at the bill signing. And not only did a rep from the NRA show up Gov. Haley thanked the gun rights group for their, um, “help” on the bill. She even presented the rep with a celebratory pen, something she also bestowed on Bennett and Rep. Mike Pitts, the bill’s House sponsor.
Now, I certainly can’t speak for Bennett, but I have my doubts that the good people of Sweet Tea Ville really were begging him to pen this bill. In fact, I’m beginning to believe the young Summerville senator was chosen by GOP leaders to introduce this bill, a bill which was probably written, word for word, by the NRA itself.
Ah. Who am I kidding? That would never happen.