Making Democracy Work

Gun Violence: Laws Must Reflect the Times in Which We Live

The LWVCA Statement on Gun Safety, Offered by Melinda Hamilton, LWVCA President, For the South Carolina Senate Gun Issues Committee Hearing, Charleston, October 3, 2016

"Chairman Malloy and members of the Senate Special Gun Issues Committee, thank you for this opportunity.

"I offer this testimony on behalf of the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area. The League of Women Voters of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton has asked that we note that its members stand with Charleston on this statement.

"Before I summarize the gun safety measures the League supports, I need to tell you very quickly who the League is.

"We have been around nearly 100 years working on behalf of democracy, equality and justice. Our national membership is more than 140,000. Eleven local Leagues make up the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. Nonpartisanship is not just a tax status for us. It is the heart of who we are. The League does not support political parties or candidates. We focus instead on issues.

"The violence crisis in our country is a constant reminder that life is precious. Do you know anyone who has not wondered if they are safe as they go about a normal life... shopping at a mall, standing on a school playground, or as they bow their head in prayer at church? We must find a way to come together in South Carolina and insist on common sense solutions to gun violence.

"Before we consider gun violence, lets think about health, safety, and the evolution of cars. The first one was built in 1769. By the end of the 19th century, cars could travel a little over 7 miles an hour. By the early 1930s, that speed had increased to 50 miles an hour. About that time, South Carolina, like many other states, began requiring driver's licenses. By 1968, cars were traveling faster and our country added a law requiring the use of seat belts.

"As times changed, the definition of responsibility evolved through both federal and state laws, and through individual awareness and commitment to safety.

"The League believes we must have a similar evolution--a redefinition of responsibility--on the role of guns and their owners in our communities. Our laws must reflect the times in which we live.

"The League does not call for taking guns away from responsible, informed gun owners. We do strongly believe we must protect public health and welfare from abuse by those who are not responsible or informed. We believe both federal and state laws must be enacted to provide this protection.

  "Specifically:  

  • "The League supports regulating access to handguns and semi automatic weapons because in the wrong hands they are a threat to public health and safety.

  • "The League supports licensing procedures for gun ownership, strengthening background checks, personal identity verification, and gun safety education.

  • "The League supports a ban on Saturday night specials, enforcement of strict penalties for the improper possession of and crimes committed with handguns and assault weapons, and better regulation and monitoring of gun dealers.

  • "The national League has supported federal legislation to ban civilian ownership of high-capacity magazines and semi automatic weapons.

  • "In June, the League's national convention passed a resolution supporting federal funding for the Center for Disease Control's research on the effects of and solutions to the gun violence crisis.

"Why is the fight for gun safety in South Carolina so important? Because South Carolina's rates for gun crimes are among the worst in the nation. And because national gun safety groups believe that if South Carolina can step up on the issue of gun safety, the momentum it generates will carry over to other states.

"Much of the burden of change falls on your shoulders as our elected officials. Nonetheless, we each have the power to work actively to reduce the cycle of gun violence. While policy and laws are useful tools in breaking this cycle, our personal responses are a crucial part of the change we seek. That part begins at home with the way we think about each other and respect we show one another.

"Dr. Martin Luther King said, this change begins not only when we refuse to shoot but when we refuse to hate."

Senators, thank you for your leadership and your service to South Carolina.