COLUMBIA About two dozen University of South Carolina students wore empty pistol holsters on campus last week, protesting rules that bar them from carrying firearms onto USC’s downtown Columbia campus.
After recent armed robberies and a sexual assault on campus, one of the members of USC’s Students for Concealed Carry group said students feel defenseless. The perpetrators of the campus crimes, allegedly armed, were “bold because they know there’s no resistance here,” said Kenny Adamson, one of the group’s leaders.
Adamson says allowing students with permits to carry concealed weapons to have guns on campus – where only criminals and law enforcement now are armed – would make students safer.
The students’ belief that having a gun would make them safer reflects a popular perspective in the debate over how South Carolinians should protect themselves against gun violence, in a state that ranks No. 6 in the nation, according to a new study.
While the U.S. Senate opens debate this week on gun restrictions, S.C. lawmakers are set to move in the opposite direction, voting on legislation that would allow more people to carry guns in more places, including restaurants, bars and schools – from elementary schools to colleges.
Meanwhile, the number of S.C. residents applying for the right to carry concealed weapons in public – including USC seniors Anderson, 21, and Emory Straub, 22 – is skyrocketing. Applications jumped to 64,437 in 2012 from about 40,000 in 2011. Monthly applications have topped 6,000 and 7,000 since the beginning of the year, in what State Law Enforcement Department chief Mark Keel calls a “huge surge.”
Study: S.C. sixth in gun violence
In the S.C. Legislature, bills are advancing in the state House and Senate to prevent people deemed mentally ill in court from buying firearms.
But most bills in the Legislature are aimed at expanding gun rights. One, sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, would allow people to carry weapons without permits, concealed or not.
Not all law enforcement officers are happy with the push to liberalize South Carolina’s gun laws.
Some, including Keel, say allowing more people to carry guns in public – especially if those carrying the weapons are untrained in handling a firearm – will not prevent the gun violence that hit an Aurora, Colo., movie theater and a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last year.
South Carolina ranks sixth in the nation for gun violence, according to a study released this month by the Center for American Progress. It ranked North Carolina 15th.
The liberal-leaning think tank ranked states according to measures of gun violence collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI and the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group.
Is answer more gun safety?
Victims’ advocate Laura Hudson, a self-described Second Amendment supporter, says South Carolina should focus on keeping guns out of the hands of people prone to violence and requiring gun owners to store their weapons safely.
“Every year, we have accidental deaths with children because they pick up weapons that are loaded because their parents have left them in unsecure places,” said Hudson, director of the S.C. Crime Victims’ Council.
Last week, a 3-year-old in Sumter died from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Almost half of S.C. households – 45 percent – reported having firearms present a decade ago, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.
But South Carolinians rank poorly in gun security, according to that study, which found the state ranked in the top 10 nationally for households reporting loaded and unlocked firearms.
Up for debate is whether the state’s high level of gun violence is due to too many guns, too few guns or some other factor, such as a society that has grown desensitized to violence.
Bright, one of the S.C. Legislature’s most outspoken proponents for expanded guns rights, says the state’s gun violence is a result of poverty and a lack of education.
Keel says a culture infused with violent entertainment and a lack of respect for others contributes to gun violence.
Keel opposes a bill that would allow concealed weapons in bars, mixing alcohol and guns.
The Senate is expected to debate the bill this week.
Keel also opposes allowing people to carry firearms without a permit in public.
“It concerns me that folks would be able to carry in a situation where they have no training, no … knowledge about when they can use a firearm and under what circumstance.”
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