Nature's law of unintended consequences applies to all, even those â€" and perhaps especially those â€" who attempt to write human laws in the wake of tragedy.
Thus, it is good that the brakes were applied to a bill hurtling through the S.C. House of Representatives that would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Lawmakers are considering amendments this week, and one detail in particular deserves their attention â€" the current requirement to receive handgun and self-defense training before receiving a permit.
The legislation was proposed just more than a month after six people, including a federal judge, were killed and 14, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, were wounded in a shooting in Tucson, Ariz. A measure that would have allowed some South Carolina public officials to carry a concealed weapon without a permit was defeated in late January, in part because it was perceived to be a right reserved for a privileged class.
The new measure would liberalize gun laws in South Carolina for everyone, although it still would impose constraints.
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For example, although the bill increases the number of places where concealed weapons would be allowed, churches, businesses and other private-property owners could ban concealed weapons from their premises. The law also would continue to prohibit concealed weapons in places such as jails, courthouses and election polling places. It still would not allow concealed weapons to be carried into schools, but it would allow them to be kept in the locked glove box of a vehicle in a school parking lot.
Also, the state law would not override any federal laws.
So the bill isn't as laissez-faire as it might sound at first blush.
However, the new measure would strike from the 1996 state law now in force provisions that mandate a criminal background check and special training before a permit is issued.
The former requirement probably wouldn't have much impact. Anyone with a criminal record determined to tote a gun isn't going to bother submitting to a background check or be deterred by not having a permit.
But the elimination of concealed-weapons training is more problematic. It is likely that many people legally qualified for concealed weapons permits don't know as much about gun laws and gun safety as they think. Instruction regarding the state's "castle law," the use of deadly force and handling a weapon in a confrontational situation is pertinent to anyone who wants to carry a gun for self-protection, but this isn't necessarily common knowledge even to avid hunters and target shooters.
Using a gun for defense of your person, property or family entails special skills and knowledge that don't come as a birthright. Public safety demands that people who take on this responsibility demonstrate they are competent to do so.
That could mean requiring a class taught by a certified instructor, as is presently the case. That could mean dropping that requirement but still mandating passage of written and range tests that typically are part of those classes.
Whatever the case, half-cocked measures are bound to bring unintended consequences â€" in this case, perhaps even deadly consequences. As such, the matter before the state House merits a deliberate pace and due consideration.