This month’s mass shooting in Florida was shocking in several respects, not only because of its brutality, but because of the rate at which school shootings have escalated in recent years. The Parkland, Florida shooting, in which 17 people were killed, is the 8th deadly school shooting to occur in the United States this calendar year. The senselessness of the shooting prompted many high school students to march on the Florida state capitol demanding responsive action by their legislators. This march was so powerful, George and Amal Clooney and Oprah each donated $500,000 to March For Our Lives, the rally organized by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Some states, such as Connecticut in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, have attempted to pass incremental legislation to make background checks at least one of the conditions to purchase a semiautomatic assault riffle, but even these meager steps have been boarded by allies of the National Rifle Association. As these tragedies continue and worsen to include young children as their innocent victims, it’s fair to wonder when our state legislature and Congress will take any steps to address this problem.
South Carolina is one of the states with the most permissive gun laws in the nation. By way of example, our House of Representatives last year approved a bill that would allow residents to carry a gun, openly or concealed, without getting a weapon’s permit. Meanwhile, a law seeking to close a loophole, which allowed Dylann Roof to purchase his semi-automatic weapons despite red flags in his mental health history remains unpassed. Even in the wake of escalating violence, lawmakers refuse to take steps that would strengthen background checks. Those with a history of mental illness or domestic violence could be screened and perhaps blocked from obtaining automatic weapons designed for war.
While such weighty issues are being debated all over the country, in South Carolina we are debating whether baggy pants should be outlawed, or whether a definition of personhood should be placed into law. Consider the implications of these two arbitrary pieces of legislation, which take up time that otherwise could be spent on addressing the increasing prevalence of mass shootings with semi-automatic weapons. The proposed baggy pants ban is not so transparently aimed at African-American youths, although proposed by African-American legislators, suggest a non-solution “problem” that has no relation whatsoever to public safety. By targeting a certain demographic for irreverent or unorthodox clothing styles, these misguided legislatures miss the point of what legislation in the public interest should do. If baggy pants revealing underwear should be banned, what of low riding jeans that show bikini underwear, and shirts that show bare midriffs? Is it a question of indecency, or simply trying to legislate clothing preferences?
On the other hand, extending the definition of personhood endangers the health of mothers whose lives might be threatened if a potentially disastrous pregnancy is not terminated early. There are certain intertubal pregnancies which could cause the death of the mother if not terminated at an early stage, however, South Carolina’s new definition of personhood would criminalize a certain type of medical intervention that would be needed to save the mother’s life.
How our legislature prioritizes certain topics with political motivations begs the question: How should legislative priorities be set? If the legislatures and elected officials cannot do something to help prevent the loss of innocent lives, and instead choose to focus on nonsensical topics to rally their narrow-minded voters, then they should be replaced. That places the responsibility on responsible citizens to not only speak out but to support candidates with the right priorities.