While Congress' approval ratings continue to sink, state officials here in South Carolina do not fare much better. Public discontent with our legislature is at an all-time high, while a cloud of distrust, corruption, and scandal hangs over the ruling party.
The “swamp creatures” are real in Columbia and they are masters of manipulation and deception.
One of their tools is a set of unwritten “rules” or customs that legislators are expected to follow. These rules come in the form of advice to new legislators, things that sound reasonable on the surface:
- If you don't know what to do, just follow the lead of someone you trust.
- Talk to leadership first before you try that.
- Learn to play ball or you'll be left outside and get nothing.
Unwritten rules like these need to be broken, especially when they are calculated to protect the power and position of corrupt politicians. This was the lesson I learned while trying to get a vote on Constitutional Carry.
What is "Constitutional Carry?"
H.3716 and H.3700 are based on the premise that the 2nd Amendment leaves no room for government-imposed permits, training requirements, or fees. This bill would allow carrying concealed or openly without a permit. Many other states have passed similar legislation, and only four other states besides SC disallow any form of open carry (NY, FL, CA, and IL).
How we Passed Constitutional Carry
By popular vote, strong pro-gun legislation is pretty much a slam-dunk here, but among swamp creatures, it isn’t.
After I introduced my constitutional carry bill in 2015, it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee. Committee chairmen are pretty much all-powerful and can unilaterally decide what bills get heard and which ones die. Chairman Greg Delleney (R-Chester) decided he didn’t like the bill.
Me being new and all, I tried at first to play by the unwritten “rules:”
- I asked him politely, over and over, to give my bill a hearing
- I waited patiently
Eventually it became clear that he was stalling, so grassroots gun organizations began to ramp up pressure to pass the bill.
- Pro-gun groups like the National Association for Gun Rights mobilized thousands of voters all over the state to contact Chairman Delleney and others demanding that they support this bill.
- We delivered tens of thousands of petitions to Rep. Delleney’s office demanding passage of this bill.
Nothing would move Delleney. He just dug in harder and kept blocking until there was no time left in the session to pass the bill.
So, I stopped playing by his rules.
I dug through the actual—written—rules of the House and found a way to make a motion on the House floor to bypass Delleney’s kill committee and bring the bill up for a vote.
This type of motion had not been made in a decade, and is frowned upon because it circumvents the Speaker of the House and his committee chairmen. It didn’t work that year, but I gained valuable tactical experience in the process.
More unwritten rule-breaking
2017 was the start of a new session and I re-filed the bill. This time, we deliberately broke the unwritten rules by planning a sneak attack to force a record vote on the bill from the House floor.
I waited quietly for my opportunity, and gave no sign that I even cared about the bill anymore.
One day, during a slight pause by the Speaker, I jumped up suddenly and made the same motion again to recall H.3700 out of the Judiciary committee and bring it to the House floor for a vote.
This type of motion requires only a simple majority to pass, and I requested a roll-call vote.
The annoyed look on Speaker Lucas’ face was priceless!
The great thing about our strategy was that it would work no matter how the vote went:
- We would still get every member of the House on record supporting or opposing the second amendment.
- There would be consequences for bad behavior.
Following the vote, NAGR and other state-based gun groups published ads targeting each Republican who voted against constitutional carry, which invited their constituents call and email them for explanations on why they voted against their right to carry.
You won't believe what happened next...
Boy oh boy, that didn’t make me any friends.
I began to be shunned and ostracized by some in the Republican Party for daring to surprise them and to call them out for voting wrong, because “that just wasn't fair.” You see, I had broken the unwritten rules again.
But then an amazing thing happened: the next week, Rep. Mike Pitts and Chairman Delleney executed a sneak attack of their own.
They hastily introduced a brand new, similar bill and rushed it through committee quietly while the Democrats were away. There was no committee debate, and no public testimony was taken.
In an impressive series of power plays, the bill was sent to the House, a Democrat filibuster was quashed, and the bill was passed out of the House and sent to the Senate.
There is only one explanation for all this sudden action: these supposedly pro-2A Republicans needed cover from the intense fire they were under for voting to kill constitutional carry.
Politics is war
At the end of the day, these unwritten rules of conduct are meant to hide the fact that politics is, and has always been, a form of warfare. It is a struggle for power, deciding who rules whom.
The legislature is not a brotherhood, as some have called it. It is not a fraternity, or a private, exclusive club. It is merely a (hopefully) fair representation of the people of the state, whose business we convene to do.
Sometimes, doing the people’s business means breaking the rules and defying the conventional wisdom. I’m in it to do your business, not because I need the acceptance or approval of the “swamp creatures.”