On Monday, October 3rd, the SC Senate held the second of four public hearings on potential gun control legislation. While the hearings are billed as impartial, there were many reasons to wonder if that description is accurate.
Several pro-gun groups came to the Monday hearing with people showing up as early as 4:30 PM for the 5:00 PM opening sign-up to speak. By my arrival, around 5:10 PM, there were a good number of people already present. Around 5:15 PM, I and several other pro-firearm rights speakers signed up to speak. Speakers continued signing up until 6:00 PM.
Unnumbered Sign Up Sheets
Unfortunately, the signup sheets were not one continuous list, but a series of independent pages without any consecutive numbering or marks. This would make it impossible to know if pages were shuffled, re-arranged, or simply left out. Strike one against impartiality.
Important Persons or Pitch Hitters?
At the start of the meeting, the Senators made it clear that some speakers, by privilege of who they were, would be allowed to testify out of order and prior to everyone else. These speakers included the mayor of Charleston, the former mayor of Charleston, Charleston Chief of Police, local politicians, local religious leaders, and several family members of victims of violent crime in South Carolina. Without fail, everyone of these privileged speakers supported additional gun control. Strike two against impartiality.
Some are More Equal than others
Speakers were to address the Senators. However, the privileged speakers made a habit of addressing the crowd and several times turned their back upon the Senators. This action was not corrected until a pro-firearms rights speaker late into the night was told to address the Senators only and not the room. Speakers were held to a limit of 2 minutes, but privileged speakers were allowed to take up significantly more time without correction. Strike three against impartiality.
In the first hour and a half to two hours, only two pro-firearms rights speakers were allowed to speak. While anecdotal evidence, this fact appears to corroborate the accusations that the combination of privileged speakers and unnumbered sign up lists were used to ensure that gun control advocates were heard from in disproportionate numbers.
Starting around the two hour mark, the mix of speakers better resembled the mix of attendees in the room. But at this point many pro-firearm rights attendees had left after calling the hearing a farce.
It wasn’t until two and a quarter hours to two and half hours into the meeting that those I signed up with were called to speak. Having arrived 10 minutes after sign up was opened (5:00 PM to begin signing up) and having signed up as soon as we could move through the line (5:15 PM or so) it was shocking that it took over two hours of testimony for our turn to arrive. Somehow there were 50 to 60 people testifying ahead of us, despite the fact that many who arrived at the time we did went straight to their seats and did not sign up.
The format of the meeting was suspect. There is no question the privileged speakers were carefully selected for their statements and ability to mold opinion. Any one of them could have an audience with the Senators outside of this hearing, and their thoughts were not aired to affect the Senators. This alone is troubling. While it is difficult to show that sign up sheets were not in order, the disproportionate representation of a single viewpoint certainly calls this into question.
What can We do?
Fortunately, pro-firearm rights voters have the same opportunity in November as everyone else, and you should make yourself heard. Votes will affect politicians opinions more than anything else. If you want to get involved further, look into joining one of the gun rights groups in SC such as SC Carry. These organizations let politicians know that gun rights proponents are organized and active and work to protect our rights.