The bill is a pre-emptive move, should Congress pass or the president order gun restrictions, amid the continued debate over the mass killing in December of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
But it attempts to do so through an obscure state law.
On the surface, the measure amends state law covering the state’s “unorganized militia” – to which all “able-bodied” South Carolinians over age 17 belong, unless they’re already members of the National Guard or State Guard.
The bill says militia members have the right to buy and possess all types of firearms and ammunition that are currently legal, should the governor, as commander in chief, call upon residents to defend the state.
Sponsoring Sen. Tom Corbin said it’s about defining the militia’s weaponry.
“Heaven forbid someone falls on our shores; we want to fight with something other than broomsticks,” said Corbin, R-Travelers Rest. “It’s not asking for flame throwers or automatic weapons.”
Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto called it a nonsense bill addressing a hypothetical situation that’s never going to happen.
The 3-0 subcommittee vote Wednesday, which sent the bill to a full committee, came a day after President Obama reiterated his call for gun control in his State of the Union address. Obama has proposed banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds.
Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the nation’s toughest gun restrictions, outlawing a broad array of military-style weapons and restricting ammunition magazines to seven rounds.Corbin said he’s confident South Carolina’s gun-friendly lawmakers will attempt no such thing.
But he said he’s trying to assure South Carolinians they need not worry about anyone confiscating their guns or ammunition due to federal changes.
“It lets them know where we stand,” he said.
He acknowledged, however, that he honestly doesn’t think the federal government would try that. There would be rioting in the streets, he said.
Reached after the meeting, Hutto called it “howling at the moon.”
“Nobody is coming to take people’s guns away,” said Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who notes he owns guns too. “We all believe in the Second Amendment.”
However, should Congress pass a gun control law that is constitutional, South Carolina is obligated to abide by it under the supremacy clause, he said.
“I think all of this nullification talk is crazy talk,” he said, adding he doesn’t think the bill will get very far. “But to the extent that we get sidetracked by all this nonsense is what concerns me.”
Corbin insists his bill is not a nullification measure – since it doesn’t seek to void any current law – and not a reaction to any particular incident. But he acknowledged he wouldn’t be talking about it if not for the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
“Every few years a tragedy occurs. At the end of the day, you have to realize evil is out there,” he said. “It’s never the gun’s fault.”
Under an approved amendment to Corbin’s bill, those who can’t lawfully possess a gun can’t be part of the “unorganized militia.”