COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina debated seceding from the Union more than 150 years ago, one of the opening salvos of the Civil War. Now, the topic has come up again, amid a national debate over firearms and gun rights.
A trio of state House Republicans on Thursday quietly introduced a bill that would allow lawmakers to debate seceding from the U.S. “if the federal government confiscates legally purchased firearms in this State.”
Rep. Mike Pitts, the measure’s chief sponsor, acknowledged Friday in an interview with The Associated Press that the bill has no chance of passage this year but pledged to continue to raise the issue based on what he described as a defense of the Bill of Rights.
“Without a Bill of Rights, our nation is not what it is,” Pitts said. “I see a lot of stuff where people even talk about totally repealing the Second Amendment, which separates us from the entire rest of the world.”
Pitts, an ardent supporter of gun rights, said he had been mulling such a proposal for a while and felt it was necessary to bring the bill forward. He said he wasn’t spurred by recent comments by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who recently wrote in an op-ed that a repeal of the Second Amendment “would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.”
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War, voting in December 1860 to make the decision based on “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery.” Other states have proposed secession-related measures. In 2013, several counties moved to secede from Colorado and form their own state, an unsuccessful movement was in part driven by new gun control laws passed by the Democratic legislature.
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A proposed ballot measure seeks to make California an independent nation, but proponents failed to gather enough signatures. Technically, the initiative would have formed a commission to recommend avenues for California to pursue its independence and delete part of the state constitution that says it is an inseparable part of the United States.
The measure would also instruct the governor and California’s congressional delegation to negotiate more autonomy for the state.
South Carolina’s bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Jonathon Hill and Ashley Trantham, has no real chance this session, although Pitts said he would be sure to re-introduce it for debate next year. The deadline for bills to move from one chamber to the other is April 10.
Pitts, a longtime law officer and Army veteran, said his bill isn’t a call for secession but merely a proposal to make the action possible if events warrant.
“I’m not promoting secession. I served this country, and I don’t want to see it broken up.”
• Brian Eason in Denver and Jonathan Cooper in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.
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