COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A South Carolina senator has a proposal to make sure no federal law can ever seize guns — make everyone over 17 who can legally own a gun a member of a militia.
South Carolina's constitution allows the governor to call up an “unorganized militia" of any “able bodied male citizens” between ages 18 and 45. State Sen. Tom Corbin's proposal would automatically expand membership to everyone who is over 17 and could own a gun.
Supporters of the bill said if everyone is a member of a militia, then they all fall under the opening clause of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that starts “A well regulated Militia." That way a federal law restricting weapons would not apply in South Carolina since almost all residents would be in the unorganized militia.
“That would 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," said Corbin, a Republican from Travelers Rest.
No one showed up to speak about the bill at a Tuesday Senate subcommittee meeting and the meeting was not streamed on the internet like many of them during the pandemic.
The subcommittee approved the bill 2-1 on party lines. It will move on the a full committee meeting Wednesday.
Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled before the shootings Monday at a Colorado grocery store that killed 10 people. Democratic Sen. Kevin Johnson reminded fellow senators of that mass killing and another the previous week where eight people were shot to death at three massage businesses in the Atlanta area.
Johnson said he supports gun rights and he, his wife and three children all have concealed weapons permits, but the bill seemed like a solution seeking a problem.
“Y’all, this country is crazy. We have homegrown terrorists. I’m sure those folks who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 probably felt they were members of some type of militia," said Johnson from Manning.
The proposal would allow unorganized militia members to carry any weapons legally allowed at the end of 2020. Anyone who does not want to be a member of the militia could resign and “resume his civilian status,” according to the bill.
The unorganized militia is long in history and short in use in South Carolina's 245 years. The state constitution created it.
State law allows the governor to call it up “in the event of or imminent danger of war, insurrection, rebellion, invasion, tumult, riot, resistance to law or process or breach of the peace" if the regular National Guard cannot handle the threat.
Evidence of a governor calling up anyone to arms is sparse in South Carolina's history. Corbin had to go back to the Revolutionary War and a revered South Carolina military officer.
“Not since Francis Marion and the Swamp Fox shooting at the British," Corbin said.
Corbin first introduced this bill in 2013 on the same day then-President Barack Obama proposed a ban on some assault rifles that did not pass. He said it was no coincidence he proposed it again in 2021 after another Democrat, President Joe Biden, took office.
“With a Republican administration in control in Washington, I didn't fear any gun confiscation," Corbin said.
Johnson noted for more than a decade, Republicans have been stoking fears that Democratic presidents would take away guns and nothing has happened.
“I would like to see if we have any type of documentation or evidence where the federal government is coming into people's homes. I keep hearing that but I just don't see any indication," Johnson said. "Most of the folks that I know respect people's right to bear arms.”
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