A bill set to be introduced this week in South Carolina would bar local governments from enacting stricter gun control, dramatically reducing the ability of local politicians to determine how to address gun violence in their communities.
The bill, written by state Representative Joshua Putnam and reviewed by The Independent, would mean changes to gun laws at the local level would have to be approved by two thirds of both chambers of the South Carolina legislature. If passed, South Carolina would join a handful of states where similar laws exist, including Florida, where the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland left 17 dead.
Mr Putnam, who is also running for South Carolina’s secretary of state post, said that he was choosing this moment to introduce the bill in light of the intense national focus on America’s gun laws that has been sparked in large part by the Parkland shooting on Valentine’s Day.
“Our biggest issue is with all the debate going on across the country … that we enter into it cool, calm, and collected,” Mr Putnam said. “This bill would safeguard the Second Amendment by requiring a two-thirds majority [to change gun laws locally], as opposed to a simple majority”.
The South Carolina legislature is dominated by Republicans, with nearly two-thirds representation in both chambers. The Republican Party is broadly seen as being opposed to stricter gun control laws, and the state is already considered to have some of the loosest gun regulation in the country.
The bill does not mention how the statute would be enforced if it were made into law, but a series of laws in other states have relied on strategies including fines for local legislators — $5,000 in Florida, and $50,000 in Arizona — as well as for making local officials personally liable for damages or attorney’s fees for violating the statute.
Detractors have criticised laws like the one that Mr Putnam wants passed for making it impossible for local communities and cities to respond swiftly, or at all, to gun violence tragedies. The Giffords Law Centre, a policy group that looks to prevent gun violence, says such laws creates a “dangerous gap … between the people passing laws and those living with them every day”
Similar criticism was seen in Florida in the wake of the Parkland shooting, where mostly Democratic politicians in the state said that the legislature in Tallahassee was keeping them from keeping their residents safe.
“I think it’s outrageous,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, a Democrat, said in the days following the shooting. “Why should the cities be prohibited from protecting their citizens?”
Florida, Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Mississippi all have laws that impose fines, make local officials liable for costs, or authorise the removal of local officials who violate their state pre-emption statutes over gun regulation. Kentucky stands alone in making local officials criminally liable for violating their state pre-emption statutes, according to the Giffords Law Centre.