Don't let Tucson shooting skew lawmaking process

Tragic events, such as the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., are bad enough, but we should be wary of ill-conceived legislation in their aftermath.

We see that in two proposals in the S.C. House of Representatives. One would require campus police to turn over to local law enforcement information about students who had been suspended or expelled or who had withdrawn from the school for disruptive or antisocial behavior. The other would give special privileges to carry firearms to state lawmakers and other elected and appointed officials while on state business.

Fortunately, a subcommittee last week voted down the bill to expand weapons privileges. The subcommittee members said it wasn't fair to others in the state who have concealed weapons permits.

The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Ted Vick, D-Chesterfield, said it was not his intent to raise lawmakers above other gun carriers, but to protect against such events as the shooting in Arizona, which killed six and critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He also cited a Dec. 14 school board shooting in Florida.

A concealed weapon permit-holder has to take eight hours of handgun training and pass criminal and mental background checks. But under current state law, permit holders, including lawmakers, cannot take their guns into schools, bars, the Statehouse and certain other locations.

The state's judges have the right to carry a gun to work if they have a concealed weapon permit. Given their role in the law enforcement and judicial arenas, that makes sense. But there's no reason that lawmakers, other elected officials and their staffs should enjoy more privileges under the law than other law-abiding citizens.

Vick said he was concerned that South Carolina residents unhappy with state budget-cutting could take out their anger on elected officials. He also said his bill was a small step toward allowing everyone with concealed weapons permits to carry guns wherever they want.

Let's hope we haven't reached the point where lawmakers need fear for their lives because of decisions about what services the state can afford.

But more importantly, we should not color a debate about guns being carried into schools and bars, and other places lawmakers have banned them, with what happened in Tuscon. Let's debate the issue on its real merits.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, wants college officials to release information about students who engaged in disruptive or antisocial behavior to law enforcement. If Arizona had had such a law, Limehouse said, police would have been alerted to potential danger when they stopped him before the shooting.

But the terms in his bill can take in a wide array of behavior. How do you define what constitutes behavior that warns of a potential threat? Who decides? What will local law enforcement do with the information? What recourse do students have should they disagree with the assessment? What are their privacy protections?

Let's weigh carefully before writing long-term laws based on today's headlines.