We have migrated from a South Carolina lawmaker wanting to strengthen gun owners' rights with a call to all able-bodied South Carolinians 17 and older to be at the ready to serve in the state's militia to a Senate subcommittee giving the OK to a bill that would allow residents to openly carry sidearms.
Anyone who knows me also knows I often get my First and Second amendments mixed up. In other words, I'm prone to stand equally behind each.
But on this one, I'm struggling. Having gun owners take and pass a course in the proper handling of their weapons that will remain concealed is one thing, a good thing; letting the state's residents (felons being the exception) strap a holster and sidearm in clear view without having to take a course or have any sort of permit is another.
To many, especially gun rights supporters, the idea makes good sense. Many men would certainly rather strap a holster and gun on the outside of their pants than shove a weapon inside their pants or make a wardrobe lifestyle change by always wearing jackets, even on the hottest of days, to keep a weapon concealed.
PART OF THE LOGIC BEHIND the bill is criminals will not obey the law no matter what. They're going to conceal or openly carry, depending on the need at the time of committing a crime. So, why not let law-abiding, non-felons just openly carry? Besides, a criminal might just avoid the individual who has a cellphone on the left hip and a .45 on the right. Right? Maybe.
Consider a couple of other scenarios in a South Carolina where residents can openly carry. The criminal intent on robbing might take a different approach to his would-be victim. After all, the criminal needs that element of surprise, so attacking from the rear might be his M.O.
There's another consideration: A criminal might simply forego the whole "this is a holdup" and "give me your wallet" conversation and simply shoot first. Again, the element of surprise, which in these examples has gone to an extreme. Effective, but extreme.
And then there are those bozos out there who will see someone with a sidearm and challenge him. Yes, it is not just possible; it's likely.
IMAGINE THE GUY WHO approaches someone wearing a gun on his hip. He looks him over and says, "You think you're something with that gun, don't you? Makes you a real tough man, doesn't it?" It's only a guy mouthing off, but at some point the confrontation could grow and the gun owner might be placed in a position of having to decide if he is going to draw - and use - that weapon. You don't draw unless you fully intend to shoot. That's one of the basic rules. Now, if that gun owner is carrying concealed, he probably won't even be in the confrontation to begin with, and if he is, the gun is not visible and is not likely to then escalate matters.
During testimony before the subcommittee last week, some law enforcement officers spoke against allowing residents to openly carry. It is not the officers are opposed to lawful residents carrying a weapon; the problem, as they see it, is it might make the job of officers more difficult as they attempt to quickly discern who is and is not a criminal, especially depending on the situation. Let's face it. Officers have unwittingly shot other law enforcement officer who were undercover. So imagine a scene in which a cop shows up and an average looking person has just shot another average looking person. And imagine being that cop and trying, in milliseconds, to determine which is the good guy.
I APPRECIATE THE FIGHT to uphold my constitutional right to own a weapon, to carry a weapon, to protect myself, my family and my home. And I even appreciate the passion exhibited by such lawmakers as Spartanburg's Sen. Shane Martin, but think the passion needs to be in check.
We really need our lawmakers to explore this issue more deeply before moving forward. This is one instance where it would be a good idea for lawmakers to take their time; after all, they can't even make a decision on simple and logical reform of the state's Freedom of Information Act in two legislative years, so there's surely no need to rush through a bill that would put sidearms on just about any South Carolinian with no courses, no permitting required.
Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-2522; email firstname.lastname@example.org ,or follow him on Twitter at IJEDITOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.