Columbia, SC — Not everyone needs a gun.
This sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, who says that that “the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” You wouldn’t know it from Gov. Nikki Haley’s Facebook photo of the pistol she received for Christmas and her signing the law allowing guns in bars. LaPierre and Haley send the same message: “Get a gun.”
The first time my father saw me wearing a handgun after becoming a law enforcement officer, he said, “Just remember, a gun will get you in as much trouble as it will get you out of.” That was in the 1970s, and I think it is more relevant today than ever.
My dad was a tough guy. Born in 1911, he rose to become president of a textile company when textiles was a rough-and-tumble business. We always had guns in the house, not just because my father liked to hunt with his sons but because he lived during those hardscrabble times in the Upstate when there were bad feelings between management and mill workers. But no matter how tense the situation, he never carried a gun.
Changes in law and public discourse about guns have encouraged a flood of gun permits. According to a Jan. 17 article in The State, there are 229,310 people licensed to carry firearms in South Carolina.
More ordinary people are authorized to carry a concealed firearm in South Carolina than there are officers in the New York Police Department (34,500) or agents in the FBI (13,598). There are more citizens with concealed-weapons permits in South Carolina than soldiers in most standing armies or in the S.C. National Guard. In fact, there are more people licensed to carry concealed weapons here than there were regular soldiers in the British Army in 2010 (113,970).
Does this make us safer? It depends on whom you ask. Some say a firearm is needed to protect your family against a home invader. Maybe, but guns in homes are far more dangerous to the children who live there.
USA Today reported that 15,576 children and teenagers were injured accidentally by firearms in 2010. Locally, we’ve had reports recently of children accidentally killing a sibling, cousin and friend while playing with a family owned gun. Nationally, guns kill twice as many children and young people as cancer, five times as many as heart disease and 15 times more than infection, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Law enforcement officers need to be armed. It is a tool of the profession. But do 230,000 people in South Carolina need to be armed and on the streets following sporting events or at a New Year’s Eve party? Have you watched televised reports of the emotions that surround the verdict in the trial of a notorious criminal defendant? Should a crowd outside the courthouse be armed? We have gone too far with guns as a popular fascination, an acceptable way to deal with each other.
Our concealed-weapons law used to require a stated need, such as a jewelry salesman traveling with his merchandise. But lawmakers attempt to win favor with voters by exploiting fears derived from constant media reports of crime and an obsession with guns. The public good suffers under the depressing influence of this pandering.
Law enforcement knows the best way to respond to a dangerous situation is to get away from it. If the president comes under threat, the Secret Service will quickly take him away. This fact is inconvenient to advocates of expanded-carry and stand-your-ground laws. Unlike law enforcement officers, the rest of us should try to retreat. Long-time experience proves it’s the safer course.
The high number of concealed-weapon permits indicates unreasonable standards in our state’s law. Not everyone needs a gun. As my father wisely counseled, a gun can get you into more trouble than it will get you out of.
Mr. Huguley is a retired SLED major and former FBI supervisory intelligence analyst; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.