When gunmaker PTR Industries decided to move to Horry County, South Carolina, last year, doors opened wide, and drinks poured freely. In a county battling 8 percent unemployment, the promise of 145 new jobs within three years paved the way to generous local economic incentives and the kind of local support that surprised workers of the company, which felt forced out of Connecticut by new stringent gun laws.
In comparison, gun-friendly South Carolina was extremely happy for its business.
In one week more than 2,000 people applied for 30 jobs. Employees would go out in the evening to local bars for drinks, would mention they worked for PTR, and people would buy them drinks, said Bob Grabowski, PTR’s purchasing manager, recalling the reception when the facility opened in January 2013. “Most of the people who moved here from Connecticut felt like they were rock stars,” he said.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons is attempting to keep the pro-gun momentum going through legislation that would force the topic of guns into classrooms, front and center. The bill, the Second Amendment Education Act, would mandate a three-week National Rifle Association–developed Second Amendment curriculum in all public elementary, middle and high schools.
Gun control advocates say the measure, proposed in December, would use South Carolina children for the benefit of the gun industry.
For the gun industry, however, the bill could be considered a big carrot, one that demonstrates that level of support to other gunmakers considering relocating to South Carolina, Grabowski said. “It’s a big handshake,” he said. “It’s a big ‘hello.’”
Second Amendment ‘handshake’
In the two years since the shooting deaths of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, gun laws have strengthened piecemeal in the U.S., with 99 new gun control laws passed in 37 states, according to nonprofit organization the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Eighty-eight pro-gun laws were passed as well, however. South Carolina, which has weakened gun laws in recent years, had the 10th-highest gun death rate in the U.S. in 2014, according to the organization. The new laws elsewhere in the U.S. have been smaller victories, advocates say, where federal attempts to strengthen gun regulations have failed.
It was Connecticut’s ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines after Sandy Hook that forced PTR — a company that makes semiautomatic weapons, some with engraved barrels reading “Protect our border” and “Come and take it” — to look for a home elsewhere.
“We feel that our industry as a whole will continue to be threatened so long as it remains in a state where its elected leaders have no regard for the rights of those who produce and manufacture its wealth,” the company said in a statement after the bill passed in April 2013.
The new law in Connecticut left an opening for South Carolina, a very pro–Second Amendment state, said Jim Moore, president and CEO of Horry County’s Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.
“PTR didn’t feel supported, didn’t feel the love if you will, from the state of Connecticut,” Moore said. “After the successful recruiting of PTR, then there were leaders here in the area and the [economic development corporation who] realized, ‘Wait a minute, there could be more opportunities here,’” he said.
In May 2013, South Carolina’s General Assembly passed a resolution welcoming gun and ammunition manufacturers to relocate to South Carolina, promising “prospects need not fear legislative or regulatory actions that would make them feel unwelcome.”
It was Clemmons, who represents the district that includes Aynor, where PTR settled, who “really went to bat” for the company, said Grabowski, a Horry County councilman who was hired as the gunmaker’s purchasing agent after it decided to move to South Carolina.
Clemmons’ Second Amendment education bill underscores that, he said.
“I think it’s an awesome idea,” Grabowski said. “While the Constitution is certainly taught in our schools, in our school systems across the country, I think because of the political climate, there is little attention given to the Second Amendment.”
“I wouldn’t say it was a nod [to the gun industry],” Grabowski said. “It was a handshake. It was right out in the open.”
“He’s actively telling them what a friendly environment it is for gun manufacturing and that the state is a big supporter of Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Clemmons did not respond to several attempts seeking comment.
Indirectly, the bill will help PTR, Grabowski said. Directly, however, “it’s not going to affect our business in terms of how many rifles we sell,” he said, “but it does promote awareness of the Second Amendment to the citizens of our country, and that, in the long run, will help our industry as a whole.”
‘It’s a nightmare’
“The Second Amendment recognizes that a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state,” Clemmons’ bill reads. “One result of hostility towards the Second Amendment has been an absolute intolerance for any discussion of guns or depiction of guns in writing or in assignments in public schools.” That would change under the bill’s designation of Dec. 15 as Second Amendment Awareness Day, when state schools would be required to hold poster or essay contests. The purpose of the contests, according to the bill, “is to encourage students to exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of speech to express their views about the Second Amendment and its role in protecting other constitutional rights.”
The level of instruction called for in the legislation dedicated exclusively to the highly politicized amendment is facing opposition from state teachers. “Education on the history, culture and use of various weapons is widely available outside of public school and accessible at the discretion of parents. This is clearly a parental control issue,” said Bernadette Hampton, the president of the South Carolina Education Association, a union representing public school teachers in the state.
“If any need for a change in curriculum is identified, it should come from the local school board, with input from parents and the community,” she added. “In addition, we believe that the proposed designation of Dec. 15 as Second Amendment Awareness Day is highly insensitive, considering that the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut is Dec. 14.”
“From what I’ve seen, gun culture advocates have no shame using Sandy Hook to push their agenda,” said Allison Anderman, a staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“This is really an astounding level of political interference into public education,” she said. The bill is laced with political ideology, such as the misrepresentation that the Second Amendment has a role in protecting other constitutional rights, she said. “The way the bill is written, it really has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It has to do with gun culture advocates, of what they want the Second Amendment to mean,” she said.
“It’s a nightmare,” Ladd Everitt, the communications director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said of the bill. “One of the main problem is that the NRA endorses an insurrectionist interpretation of the Second Amendment. When you bring a radical special interest group like the NRA into the classroom, basically you’re going to have teachers teaching our children that there is an individual right under the Second Amendment to shoot and kill government officials when one personally believes the government is behaving in a tyrannical manner.”
“You would hope that there is enough respect for actual education in that state to defeat this. This is one of those types of proposals that degrades a state” and make students less competitive, he said. “It will hurt them.”