When South Carolina state Rep. Alan Clemmons heard a Summerville, S.C., high school student had been arrested and suspended from school for a creative writing essay about buying a gun to kill a pet dinosaur, the Republican told PJM he knew he had to do something.
“That caused me to start looking into what’s so wrong with our educational system that a young man gets arrested over a fictional essay about shooting a dinosaur,” Clemmons said.
Clemmons’ investigation included conversations with teachers and school administrators who confirmed his worst fear: zero-tolerance policies had squelched any discussion of the Second Amendment and firearms in schools.
Clemmons said the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which reads “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” — deserves much more respect than it is receiving in South Carolinian schools.
“The Second Amendment was important enough to be placed second in the Bill of Rights,” said Clemmons. “What the right to keep and bear arms means historically and to the modern American is not being shared in schools.”
So, Clemmons has introduced the Second Amendment Education Act in the South Carolina State House.
Under his proposal, high school students would receive three weeks of instruction on the Bill of Rights with a special emphasis on the Second Amendment during a state-mandated grading period focused on the U.S. Constitution.
The state mandated-curricula would include instruction about “the constitutionality of gun control laws,” and “the impact of legislative reactions to gun violence on Constitutional rights and the impact on reducing gun violence, if any,” along with the history and ratification of the Second Amendment.
Students would also learn about cases like that of Alex Stone, the teenager whose fight for the right to write about shooting a dinosaur began Clemmons’ odyssey.
In the words of the legislation, the curricula would include instruction regarding “any practices or policies that discourage or punish political, written, or artistic expression that includes references to guns or a militia are prohibited because they disregard free speech rights provided in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and inhibit creative expression and academic freedom necessary for a genuine educational atmosphere.”
The Second Amendment Education Act would also establish Dec. 15 as “Second Amendment Awareness Day” in South Carolina, a day that would include state-mandated Second Amendment school poster and/or essay contests, and statewide recognition for the winners.
The legislation also mandates class instruction on the causes of mass shootings.
Dec. 15 is the day after the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.
“The reason (for the Second Amendment Education Act) is to make up for the failure to teach the Second Amendment in years past,” he said. “And I will say I am starting off with three weeks because I believe quite frankly through the legislative process that is likely to be pared down and I would rather start with three weeks than one week.”
Clemmons said it would be up to the state schools superintendent to develop the Second Amendment curricula and the National Rifle Association would be asked to participate as a resource.
Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the NRA, told PJM the organization was in the process of reviewing Clemmons’ proposal.
Clemmons said he has heard support from teachers who believe the Second Amendment should not be ignored, but he has also learned Hell hath no fury like an educator whose liberal teaching agenda has been scorned.
“I have received some rather nasty emails from educators who think this is the worst idea that anybody could ever have with regard to civics education,” he said.
Reaction to Clemmons’ proposal from his colleagues in the South Carolina State House in Columbia varies from one side of the political spectrum to the other.
Same thing goes for the media.
He said Bloomberg, Mother Jones, US News & World Report, and MSNBC all editorialized that teaching students about the Second Amendment would be the worst thing educators could do in the classroom.
From that left side of the aisle, Dr. Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, told Mother Jones he believes South Carolinians should be more concerned with math and science, and their state’s “abysmal” rankings in education.
“Nobody, I think, would say ‘The best way to improve education is to have a three-week segment on the Second Amendment,’” Woodard said. “Boy, that’ll move us up in the national rankings!’”
“However, on the right side of the aisle, I am hearing nothing but applause,” Clemmons said.
Clemmons expects his bill will receive a committee hearing. He said he and legislative leaders are in the process of scheduling the introduction.
Clemmons’ proposal may be relegated to the students of his home state because of his stature as a state representative in South Carolina.
But he does not believe the fight to make sure the high school class of 2015 and beyond, understand and respect the Second Amendment needs to be waged only in South Carolina.
Clemmons sees this as a national problem.
“A generation of students have no appreciation for the Second Amendment,” he said. “Those students who will be our future leaders have no appreciation for the Second Amendment.”
Clemmons is afraid that does not bode well for what he sees as one of Americans’ most important liberties.
“When you take the guns away from the society, you have a society that is completely unprepared to take care of itself.”