Over the past 10 years, South Carolina has become a much safer place to live, work and raise a family. Since the General Assembly wisely chose to allow good citizens to carry guns for self-defense, the violent crime rate has sharply declined. And although the mainstream news media largely avoid reporting such facts, the truth is more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens equals less crime.
Prior to passage of the Law Abiding Citizens Self-Defense Act, few South Carolinians were allowed the ready means to protect themselves from vicious criminals. In fact, applications for concealed weapons permits were summarily denied unless the State Law Enforcement Division was convinced of the need. Under this outdated and highly discretionary system, money or worldly goods were often given higher priority than personal safety.
That all changed when then-S.C. Rep. Jeff Young of Sumter decided to take up the cause of self-defense. Young's extraordinary leadership bolstered by members of the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of South Carolina helped persuade more than two-thirds of the S.C, House to advance the concept. The train was on the track and South Carolina was well on its way towards becoming a safer place.
The citizen safety measure passed the House with little disagreement, but when it reached the Senate, opponents of individual rights were waiting. The mostly Democratic opposition, led by S.C. Sen. John Land and his closest allies, immediately began warning about the dangers. According to their confused logic, good citizens could not be trusted to handle firearms in public. They seemed to suggest the mere presence of a gun would somehow turn an honest person into a homicidal maniac.
Thankfully our friends, like then-Sen. Joe Wilson of Lexington, knew better. Again, with strong grass-roots support, Wilson was able to convince the Senate majority to recognize the basic individual right to self-defense. Although the other side predicted that blood would run in the streets, our clear thinking prevailed. And in the closing minutes of the 1996 legislative session right-to-carry became law.
The first permits were mailed out a few months later, around Thanksgiving. Since that time well over 50,000 more have been issued. The best news in all of this is that statewide our violent crime, which had been on a frightening rise, suddenly began to drop. And its decline has continued. Research conducted by various scholars, including professor John Lott of the University of Chicago, suggests that it's no coincidence.
The indisputable conclusion drawn from Lott's research is that in every case liberalized right-to-carry laws have caused violent crime rates to plummet. It's not difficult to understand why this happens. As a whole, street thugs and other criminal opportunists are cowards. They fear an armed populace. And although violent crime will always be with us, the deterrent effect of a reasonable concealed weapons law does indeed benefit society as a whole.
So, on this 10th anniversary of the Law Abiding Citizens Self-Defense Act, we should applaud its common sense approach to crime control and community safety. As more people take responsibility for their own safety, the folks living around them will gain a real and tangible benefit. More guns in the hands of good people clearly makes the streets safer for everyone except those who seek to do us harm.
The writer, former president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, lives in Columbia.