I’ll believe Myrtle Beach officials are fully committed to improving the area’s overall Memorial Day atmosphere, rather than just singling out the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest, when I hear them talk about curbing gun violence – the thing that put Bikefest back in the spotlight this year more than anything else.
I’ll believe those claiming, with white-hot passion, that they simply want things to get better if they demand we deal forthrightly with how the proliferation of guns, and a culture that worships guns more than it believes in the sanctity of life, contributed to what happened and has resulted in South Carolina having the ninth-highest rate of gun deaths in the nation, according to the Violence Policy Center, based on numbers from the Center for Disease Control.
Bikefest has for years been loud and has had high-density crowds that disrupted traffic, business schedules and community peace in some areas of the Grand Strand.
It has featured scantily-clad young women and motorcyclists dangerously weaving in-and-out of traffic and complaints about R-rated behavior. Nonetheless, it has not been a major topic of discussion for the past few years, except in scattered quarters for short periods of time.
That changed when gunshots rang out multiple times this year and three people lie dead in the wake of the chaos. Gun violence – not rude behavior in restaurants – is what makes this Bikefest stand out from previous events and other busy summer weekends on the beach.
That’s when the community stood up and took notice in a way it hadn’t for years. Those deaths may have been the result of a long-simmering dispute from the Charleston area, but it is just as well that it highlighted the ever-present existence of gun violence, which affects this nation like none other in the industrialized world.
The next gun-violence related flare-up during Memorial Day weekend might emanate from the Grand Strand, which doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to understand why, given that the area has experienced such violence in the weeks since Bikefest ended.
And yet, the conversation has turned into one about securing funding for the National Guard and more law enforcement, and putting ads on urban radio stations all but telling people they are not welcome here, and the influence of provocative internet postings.
When are we going to get serious about gun violence? During the past few years, members of the community, such as Bennie Swans, Rev. Timothy McCray, and the S.C. Mothers Against Violence, have been waging a battle against the scourge of gun violence. They’ve marched in the streets. They’ve held town hall meetings. They’ve mentored young men and women who were already playing that dangerous game to stop, and others to look elsewhere for an identity.
They’ve cried with victims and empathized with the families of those being imprisoned because of dastardly deeds.
They’ve come up with after school programs and petitioned Myrtle Beach City Council, Horry County Council, and others, for funding for comprehensive programs that would attack the problem at every level. And they’ve tried to get into the ear of local educational and business leaders.
Initially, they got some response from area leaders, though Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes claimed during that period the city had already done all it could, that the rest was up to the community. Even the Myrtle Beach NAACP president at the time initially said it wasn’t the group’s problem – because it wasn’t about discrimination – but then tried to spearhead efforts to combat violence.
But no serious efforts to curb gun violence would be complete without dealing with the presence of the number of guns that continue to flood our streets. Had nothing changed this past Memorial Day weekend – save for so many guns – most people would not have noticed Bikefest.
There would have been a fight that ended with a few bloody noses instead of lifeless bodies on hotel balconies.
We should not feign surprise when highly-emotional altercations turn tragic because of the presence of a gun, given that we spend so much in this state arguing that more guns in the hands of more people in more places is best for South Carolina and Myrtle Beach – a message many of our local leaders relay in one way or another.
We should not feign surprise when the young men, like those involved in the Bikefest incident and the shootings in the Myrtle Beach area since, get that message loud and clear and respond accordingly.
In the immediate days after Bikefest, I heard from plenty of Myrtle Beach area residents who proudly said they wished they had been in the heart of the crowd – because they would have been able to restore order with their legally-purchased guns.
They really believed adding more guns to the chaos of that weekend would have made things better. As long as that’s the default belief of so many people in this area, expect more flare-ups of gun violence.
If Grand Strand leaders want to change that reality, they’ll spend as much time coming to grips with and corralling our run-away gun culture as they do railing against social media accounts.
Contact Issac Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @TSN_IssacBailey.