Some gun-connected legislation is being tossed around in the legislature, and news reports say that tensions are high. Apparently there's a brouhaha over a couple of bills, pitting the National Rifle Association's supporters against those who belong to a nationally-affiliated group called The South Dakota Gun Owners. I guess before I go on I should say I'm pretty much a 2nd Amendment devotee, believing that the right of individuals to bear arms is an ingrained and historic element of American life. I'm also okay with concealed carrying rights, with the usual caveat that rights come with responsibilities. Personally I don't carry or even own a firearm. I lost my taste for those weapons after toting a .45 automatic and an M-16 all over Quang Tri Province in Vietnam for 13 months when I was a Marine radioman with a grunt company. I don't even like the smell of gunpowder at July 4 fireworks shows--just evokes too many memories and images of battlefields, blood and dead people.
But one thing I do know, in principle at least, my service was all about preserving individual rights, especially those that are set in Constitutional stone. I do find it a little weird, though, when gun owners try to push those rights by extending them into laws that permit folks carrying concealed weapons into specific locations, like schools and, in the case of a just-failed bill in Pierre, into the State Capitol Building itself. The latter effort fell by the wayside, but not before some tension erupted on the floor of the legislature. Nowhere in any news reports did I get any information about why the bill's supporters felt it was necessary to allow people to bring concealed weapons into the Capitol--except when the legislature and the Supreme Court are in session and, quizzically to me, when the Governor is giving a budget address. That last caveat struck me as somewhat quirky. Why would an occasion when the Governor is speaking on any topic except the budget be open season for weapons-packers to roam inside the building? What makes a budget address so special that it needs to be singled out as an occasion when guns are a no-no? Given that the Capitol, like any public structure these days, is probably crawling with security, I imagine the need to carry a weapon into the building for self-protection is pretty minimal. The me this seems like more than a solution in search of a problem. I think it's an over-assertion of gun rights and a failed demonstration of political clout among some gun ownership groups. Even the NRA lobbied against it.
This isn't the only bill that has divided gun owners politically in Pierre. Per an Associated Press piece published in today's Rapid City Journal, The NRA is supporting a bill that would keep firearms away "from those who are mentally ill and deemed a threat to themselves or others." The effort is in keeping with the NRA's effort to get legislation like this passed in all 50 states. The South Dakota Gun Owners and their national organization oppose it, saying that "this mental health legislation targets law-abiding gun owners to strip them of their right to self-defense without a crime ever being committed." Huh? Is the general population supposed to be okay with the notion that people who are "deemed a threat to themselves and others" have the same gun-bearing rights as all other gun owners? I can't see it, but am certainly open to hearing from opponents of this bill if they'd care to explain why they oppose it. To me the legislation sounds more like common sense than an erosion of gun ownership rights. Those rights are certainly worth preserving and defending, but there's no need to go overboard with gratuitous political statements like this one as part of the process. .