Are Gun Restrictions Likely in 2017?

South Carolina Gun Restrictions

IN RECENT YEARS, STATE LAWMAKERS HAVE MADE INCREASINGLY BOLD MOVES AGAINST THE SECOND AMENDMENT. LOOK FOR MORE OF THE SAME THIS YEAR.

The hostility toward Second Amendment freedoms seen at the national level – proposals for gun registries, bans on certain firearms, and so on – is just as evident in “red state” South Carolina’s State House as it is anywhere else in the country. The last several years, in fact, have seen the introduction of several bills intended in one way or another to curb Second Amendment rights.

For the upcoming 2017 session, legislators have already promised to introduce bills that would, among other things, increase the wait time for background checks and require registration of guns. If recent history is any guide, however, the bills will begin their legislative journey as highly restrictive gun control measures, then be slowly curtailed as the session goes on. By the end of session, such bills may no longer be the sweeping anti-Second Amendment bills they started out as. But that should be no comfort to South Carolinians who oppose further gun control measures, since small, seemingly modest restrictions grow over time to create a much more prohibitive environment for Second Amendment freedoms.

Pro-gun South Carolina?

Recent history, moreover, suggests that – for all South Carolina’s reputation as a pro-Second Amendment state – lawmakers are not averse to introducing substantial gun control bills.

A bill introduced in 2014, for example, would have required background checks for all firearm sales in South Carolina – this despite the lack of evidence that background checks enhance crime prevention. In a 2013 Center for Disease Control report done at the request of President Obama, around 70 percent of the guns criminals used came “from family or friends, drug dealers, street purchases, or the underground market,” not from legal guns sales. Put another way, about 70 percent of guns used by criminals – the very group background checks target, would not be subject to them.

A bill introduced in 2015, similarly, attempted to mandate permits for “casual gun sales.” It would have required private sellers to get a license and a bond with the state – effectively criminalizing many informal gun sales. The simple process selling a firearm to a friend would have required approval by the state (and a fee, naturally).

Another bill from 2016 would have prohibited the sale, transport, and ownership of an “assault weapon.” There is no industry definition of an “assault weapon,” and so the law had to define it, which it did vaguely: The bill might have applied to all sorts of guns, or virtually no guns at all. Consequently – and this was also true of the bill’s now extinct federal counterpart – the state ban would have imposed an arbitrary ban on one type of gun while leaving others completely unaffected.* (For more on this and similar bills introduced during the latest session, see the Policy Council’s 2016 Best and Worst of the General Assembly.)

All of these bills failed to pass the legislature, but experience strongly suggests that once such bills begin to be introduced in significant numbers – and the bills above represent only a fraction of the over 30 gun bills introduced in the last two sessions – the legislature will be emboldened to pass them, or to pass components of them, eventually.

Overblown claims

When South Carolina politicos commence debating gun-related legislation in 2017 – as they begin debating which measures are acceptable means of curtailing citizens’ right to defend themselves – it’s best to treat many of the restrictionists’ claims that gun laws decrease violence with skepticism.

For example, it cannot be proven that there is a correlation between restrictive gun laws and a decrease in violence. The same 2013 study of gun violence the CDC did at the request of President Obama found that “whether gun restrictions reduce firearm-related violence is an unresolved issue.” The CDC reported, in a different study, that in 2013 California had 1,312 firearm homicides. This was the highest in the nation by over 35 percent – despite the fact that California has among the strictest gun laws in the nation.

Nor is there any evidence that gun registries are effective ways to prevent crime. Canada and New Zealand abolished their gun registries after they had become clearly ineffective. Canada saw non-compliance (people neglecting or refusing to register their guns) as high as 50 percent; and New Zealand ended the registry of rifles and shotguns when police said registration was expansive, impractical, and yielded almost nothing of value.

To sum up: Watch for new gun restrictions in 2017. Gun restrictionists will likely cite vague goals such as “public safety” and “decreasing gun violence,” but the evidence that their proposals can accomplish those goals is deeply problematic. The criterion for restricting constitutional rights, meanwhile, is the same as it’s always been: Government can regulate a constitutional right (in this case, the right to bear arms) only when it’s clear that doing so is the only way to protect another constitutional right (for example, the right to life). On the evidence produced so far, it’s not only unclear that gun restrictions protect life: the evidence strongly suggests that they don’t.

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* The federal assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004 after a study by the Department of Justice concluded that “we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence … Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”

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