Sen. Tom Corbin (R) is proposing expanding membership to the militia to everyone who is 17 years and older arguing that if many residents are part of this regulated militia, it would protect them from federal laws restricting weapons.
Corbin did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in an interview with the Associated Press he said his proposal could “prevent the federal government from ever confiscating any of your weapons because at the end of the day the federal government cannot disarm a standing army.”
The bill speaks to the lengths to which legislators may go to make a political statement regarding potential federal gun laws through unorthodox local initiatives, according to experts.
Adam Winkler, professor at UCLA School of Law who specializes in constitutional law and Second Amendment, said the bill is part of a larger trend of conservative states pushing to make strong political statements opposing gun control, amid mounting calls for regulation.
“There is an increasing number of red states where laws are being proposed or passed to prevent federal laws from operating in those states,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by several republican senators, including Sen. Dwight A. Loftis, Josh Kimbrell, Billy Garrett, and Tom Rice and first introduced by Corbin in February, claims that all militia members “shall have the right to possess and keep all arms- including rifles, shotguns, handguns and magazines” acquired by South Carolina residents as of Dec. 31, 2020.
This week, a Senate subcommittee approved the bill on party lines and moved to a full committee meeting on Wednesday.
Winkler argued that however controversial the proposal may be, it lacks constitutional basis because federal laws have supremacy and Congress has the power to organize and regulate state militias.
“The problem is that you can’t always do it with state law, because of the supremacy of federal laws,” Winkler added. “And so some of these local initiatives are ineffective and mostly symbolic politics.”
The initiative underscores the political divide surrounding gun-control debate despite recurring incidents of mass shootings across the country and pervasive gun violence. Republicans and conservatives often invoke the Second amendment rights as sacrosanct, as Democrats often call for limits on guns.
In the wake of the Boulder, Colo., shooting, the second mass shooting in a week, President Biden urged Congress to pass gun-control laws and said he may take action on his own to stop mass violence.
Yet experts and advocates argue significant federal legislation is an uphill battle, considering that no major federal legislation has been passed in decades, because of how socially divisive and partisan the issue has become.
Only last week, the day after eight people were killed at three massage spas in the Atlanta area, South Carolina’ state House approved an open-carry bill, also sponsored by Corbin, which allows people who have permission to have concealed-weapons to carry them visibly out in public.
After hours-long debate, the bill was widely supported by Republicans, with some Democrats joining in.
And on the very same day 10 people were killed at a supermarket in Boulder, the Iowa legislature passed a bill that allows state residents to purchase and carry handguns without permits.
Only 10 days before the tragedy took place, a judge blocked a ban on assault weapons in Boulder that was first pushed to prevent mass shootings from happening.
Corbin, who also sponsored an “open-carry” bill last month in South Carolina, first introduced the ‘militia bill’ in 2013 when then-President Barack Obama proposed extensive laws to end gun violence, including reinstating a ban on assault rifles. The bill did not pass.
The senator said it was not a coincidence that he had proposed it again this year after another Democrat had taken office.
“With a Republican administration in control in Washington, I didn’t fear any gun confiscation,” Corbin told the AP.
Mass shootings often add momentum for gun reform. In the years following the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut in 2012 where 26 people were killed, including 20 first-grade children, the gun control movement has become reinvigorated, leading 13 Democrat-run states to enact or expand background checks for new gun purchases.
But with tighter laws came an equally vigorous pro-gun rights response: more than a dozen other states passed laws that allow citizens to purchase guns with no permits at all.