Growing up in South Carolina, I learned early on about firearms, and when I was old enough to obtain a South Carolina Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP), I did.
Like many CWP holders, I got my permit for protection. I was aware during my college years that, although I was a South Carolina CWP holder, I could not carry a firearm on campus. That was my first exposure to “Gun Free Zones,” which are regulations against law-abiding CWP holders and gun owners.
These same laws do little to prevent criminals from carrying a firearm. As an elected Beaufort County Board of Education representative, I am now faced with an additional hard reality, which is a South Carolina statutory regulation that prevents law-abiding CWP holders from entering the “office of or the business meeting of the governing body of a county, public school district, municipality, or special purpose district” while carrying concealed.
While I can appreciate good intentions, good intentions often make for bad policy. County Council and school board meetings have been the targets of shootings in the recent past (Panama City, Florida, and Kirkwood, Missouri, for example) so their exclusion from where law-abiding CWP holders can carry is ill-advised.
Consider that CWP holders are one of the most law-abiding subsets of the population. Also, elected officials are duty-bound to be present at the meetings of their respective governing bodies. Under S.C. Code of Laws § 23-31-215(m)(4), however, elected officials who also are CWP holders are prohibited from carrying concealed into the meetings of their bodies.
Fortunately, we have a law enforcement presence at our school board meetings. However, a motion was made at a recent board meeting to do away with law enforcement presence at our meetings. The rationale given was concern regarding the “image” it projected, the cost associated, and the restrictions on the law enforcement officer’s ability to act.
I vehemently oppose the removal of law enforcement presence from our board meetings. The removal of law enforcement at board meetings — coupled with the S.C. Code prohibiting CWP holders from carrying — would leave a public meeting absent any means of protection.
Governing bodies are not presently permitted to adopt policy whereby their elected members can carry concealed. More pointedly, they shouldn’t have to adopt such a policy because restrictions like these on CWP holders do nothing to promote public safety and restrict law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves.
For now, our law enforcement presence remains at our school board meetings. However, if this challenge is true for a county of our size, then in smaller counties or districts with less law enforcement, the only thing standing in the way of a criminal with a firearm and the public may be a CWP holder.
Having fought the motion to remove our law enforcement presence at our school board meetings, I implore the S.C. General Assembly to revisit S.C. Code 23-31-215(m)’s restrictions for law-abiding CWP holders.
This column was originally published Wednesday on FitsNews.com. Rachel Wisnefski is a member of the Beaufort County Board of Education, representing parts of Bluffton.