Gun Rights-Unorganized Militias

South Carolina state Sen. Josh Kimbrell (left), R-Spartanburg, asks questions Tuesday, March 23, 2021, of Sen. Tom Corbin (right), R-Travelers Rest, during a meeting, in Columbia, S.C.

(The Center Square) – The South Carolina militia has not been activated since colonial days, but the state’s constitution allows for an “unorganized militia” to be created ad hoc if a statewide emergency overwhelms the National Guard and other forces.

Under the state’s constitution, “able-bodied” South Carolinians between 18 and 45 years old are, technically, members of these “unorganized militias” should an emergency call them into action.

A bill that advanced this week to the Senate floor would prevent the federal government from banning firearms owned by any member of a South Carolina militia that were legal under state law as of Dec. 31, 2020.

Senate Bill 614, sponsored by Sen. Tom Corbin, R-Travelers Rest, was approved by the Senate Family and Veterans' Services Committee in an 8-6 vote and is set for a chamber debate.

Corbin said the bill ensures the state’s militia is appropriately armed and would curb any attempted “gun grab” by President Joe Biden's administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress, which is pushing gun-control proposals, including an “assault weapons” ban, in the wake of recent mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado.

“Do we want our militia members fighting with pitchforks and broomsticks?” Corbin asked, noting many South Carolinians are alarmed by the gun-control push.

“There’s a lot of good American citizens out there that I represent that are just afraid that at some point of time, the federal government, under any administration, may come and try to infringe on their Second Amendment rights,” he said.

SB 614 states South Carolina militias “may not fall under any law or regulation or the jurisdiction of any person or entity outside of South Carolina” and would prohibit the federal government from outlawing firearms they already own.

Firearms protected from federal regulation under SB 614 include “shouldered rifles and shotguns, handguns, clips, magazines, all components, and all ammunition fitted for such weapons."

“This is not a bill that encourages fear-mongering,” said Sen. Penry Gustafson, R-Camden. “There is a basis and a reason behind this bill.”

Democrats argued fear-mongering is the bill’s basis and political pandering is the reason why it was filed because, otherwise, it makes no sense.

“There seems to be some notion that the federal government is going to come into states and just collect guns,” said Sen. Vernon Stephens, D-Bowman, said. “As I look around and see some of the incidents that are occurring in our state, in our nation, it scares me. And, yes, we continue to have vigils after mass shootings and pray that we’re going to do something better and then it goes away. And then we have another and then we have another and then we have another.”

With the House sending the state’s proposed $29.8 billion fiscal year 2022 budget to the Senate in a 112-6 vote Tuesday, Democrats said SB 614 will fade away as senators become occupied with the spending plan.

Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, said SB 614 is almost certainly unconstitutional and another bill apparently purposely filed to challenge court rulings and embroil the state in lengthy, expensive and fruitless legal battles.

“We keep passing stuff that’s unconstitutional against the current Supreme Court rulings, thinking this is the best thing to do with our time,” Harpootlian said. “This president is not going to break into your house and seize your guns.”

Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said it was the U.S. Supreme Court’s role to overrule laws that violate the Second Amendment, not state legislators’ role.

“I’m just wondering if it’s a good use of our time at the state level to get outside of our lane and do something the federal government should be doing,” he said.