Contrary to populist belief, most Democrats don’t really want to take your guns … but Wendell Gilliard does.
Well, some of them.
The Charleston state lawmaker last week announced plans to file legislation that would ban the sort of semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines used to shoot up schools and other public places with tragic frequency these days.
That’s not a surprising position for a progressive politician, even in South Carolina. But unlike most, who tread lightly on this ground, Gilliard actually went there.
He not only wants to stop sales of AR-15s and the like — he wants to confiscate the ones already out there.
“I just believe, like Ronald Reagan said, that there’s a place in society for these weapons … and it’s in the military,” Rep. Gilliard says.
After President Reagan left the White House, he did support the 1994 assault weapons ban. He famously declared nobody needs an AK-47 for sport or self-defense.
But Reagan also called confiscation an unrealistic panacea. It would be impossible to find all the guns in this nation, and even 30 years ago that was a politically fraught idea.
No telling what sort of anarchy might ensue today. Some folks can’t even lose an election non-violently.
Which is why Gilliard’s pronouncement gave his own team some heartburn. One lawmaker privately called it an exercise in futility, that there’s “no scenario where anybody supports confiscating any guns.”
That’s because wandering into that minefield only does one thing: It gives ammo to the folks who’ve fear-mongered for decades about the government coming for our guns.
Gilliard knows what he said was controversial, and meant it that way. He’s tired of seeing people die needlessly every week, and wants to shake the country out of its lethargy.
After two heinous mass shootings in Texas and New York state, Congress recently passed some bipartisan gun law reforms. Gilliard says he’d like to work across the aisle to do more, but the GOP has been overrun by extremists who won’t even debate gun law reform.
He sure stirred up extremists somewhere. A day after his announcement, Gilliard was on the phone with SLED, reporting threats made against the folks at his news conference.
He personally got messages suggesting he needed to be “removed.” One guy even claimed he had Gilliard’s noose ready.
It’s pretty bad when lynching nostalgia trumps the obvious threat here.
The scariest thing is how unsurprising that is. Because this debate left the bounds of good sense and common decency long ago.
Gilliard is right about one thing: The intransigence is mostly from politicians. As one Democratic lawmaker notes, the gun reform movement in this state is “nonexistent.” Even though there’s more common ground on gun law reforms than most hot-button issues.
A Winthrop University poll from 2019 showed 83% of Democrats and 80% of Republicans favored expanded background checks on gun purchases. Those numbers haven’t changed significantly since 2015, when nine people were killed at Emanuel AME Church.
The group Third Way released a poll after the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings that showed a majority of South Carolinians support red flag laws; 78% of state voters surveyed even said it was too easy to get a gun.
The national numbers are similar, but our politics don’t reflect that. Gilliard says the vocal minority opposed to any gun regulation ignores that part of the Second Amendment about it applying to “a well-regulated militia.” And fails to consider that, as technology changes, so must our laws.
By which he means there was no way to shoot 19 kids in a minute with a musket.
“If you think for a minute the founders had this in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment, that’s ridiculous,” he says. “The Constitution didn’t even apply to my people, or indigenous people or women when it was written. It has to be a living document, or it’s just words on paper.”
Gilliard’s critics say he’s just stirring the pot, and doesn’t address more common gun violence. He says it’s one thing to target weapons of war; a handgun ban is a bridge too far.
“I’ve never believed in taking away anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” he says. “This is just about not standing idly by while our women and children are being slaughtered in mass shootings.”
Gilliard is tenacious, but anyone alarmed by his threat needn’t worry. The odds of South Carolina’s General Assembly even considering this are significantly longer than your chances of winning the Powerball.
Gilliard made some of the earliest pitches for police body cameras and outlawing texting while driving. Other lawmakers took both ideas and passed their own versions. He’d welcome a similar outcome here; anything to reduce the bloodshed.
“I know we can’t stop it all, but we could put a dent in it,” he says.
A dent would be welcome, but alas this won’t be it. So, if someone comes knocking on your door — don’t shoot. It won’t be Gilliard, or the government.