SC poised to join 45 other states that allow gun owners to carry openly in public

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Permitted gun owners who want to carry concealed weapons in the state of South Carolina are soon likely to join residents in 45 other states who can carry their hand guns openly in public — a proposal that has frustrated gun-control advocates, doctors and top law enforcement leaders but was a resounding win for many Republican lawmakers.

With three days left on the legislative calendar, the Senate voted 28-16 after a roughly 12-hour debate to pass H. 3094, a House-sponsored bill that would allow only concealed weapons permit holders the right to carry their hand gun in the open.

The Senate made a handful of changes to the bill, from removing the $50 cost of the permit application fee to requiring clerks to report pertinent information to the State Law Enforcement Division within five, not 30, days that would prohibit someone from buying or owning a gun.

But the Senate also rejected dozens of amendments that included a Republican-pushed attempt to expand the measure by eliminating the law’s existing permit and background check requirement entirely, and also Democrat-led efforts to enhance background checks.

The bill goes back to the House, likely to reject the changes, triggering a six-member joint panel to hammer out differences.

Gov. Henry McMaster says he will sign any legislation that aims to protect Second Amendment rights.

The bill’s passage in the upper chamber Thursday, already passed in the House, came days after Columbia police responded to a shooting in the city’s Five Points neighborhood, an entertainment district that includes restaurants, bars and shopping. Its passage came roughly a month after a former NFL player opened fire, killing six people and himself in York County.

It came two days after a Senate panel narrowly pushed through a hate crimes bill, named after the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, killed with eight other Black churchgoers by a white supremacist in Charleston in 2015. And in came only hours after a Fort Jackson soldier armed with a rifle hijacked a school bus full of elementary school children. Fort Jackson officials later confirmed the rifle did not have ammunition inside it.

Over three days, Senate Democrats decried what they called a blatant attempt by Republicans to assuage a minority of voters to help them — and potentially a gubernatorial candidate — bat away primary opponents.

“A lot of people who care about South Carolina, they’re not asking for this,” said state Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, who added it is a “vocal minority that want to carry guns” out in the open.

“I don’t understand the fantasy,” added Johnson, a concealed weapons permit holder.

Democrats also blasted Republicans for pulling a procedural move that allowed the bill to bypass the full Senate Judiciary Committee and the amendment-drafting process and take priority on the calendar.

The Senate’s first hearing was a “very, very abbreviated subcommittee hearing for two days,” said state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, a member of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee which advanced the bill in a 3-2 vote. “I don’t want anybody to have the impression that this was a landslide vote. It was a close vote.”

Republicans have flexed their legislative muscle throughout the five months of the Legislature’s work calendar after they gained a tighter grip in November last year over the chamber when the GOP flipped three Senate seats. They also flipped two House seats.

In those months since, Republicans have passed one of the most restrictive abortion measures, now challenged in court, and, aside from guns, are close to passing into law legislation that would expand options for death row inmates to be executed that would include a firing squad.

On open carry, the bill’s proponents say nothing in the state law would change aside from where you can carry on your body, and lawmakers pointed to 45 other states, including Georgia and North Carolina, where they have variations of open carry laws.

Guns would still be banned on school and State House property, for instance, and any business that may ban them inside.

Cities and counties also could ban guns at certain permitted events, including carnivals, festivals and parades where hundreds if not thousands of families gather.

Thirty-one states allow someone to carry without a permit or license, said state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg.

Fifteen states require a permit to carry a handgun and five states, including South Carolina currently, prohibit it, he added.

“It’s a shame that South Carolina is one of those five states that prevents people from carrying firearms open in public,” Martin said. “I’ve been to other states and it hasn’t been a problem.”

But opponents fixated not only on gun violence in the state, but the law enforcement leaders who said the expansion of the state’s gun regulations would cause undue harm, putting police officers in precarious positions if they have to respond to an emergency where someone, other than the instigator or suspect, has a gun on them in the open.

“If blue lives really do matter,” why loosen the gun laws, asked former solicitor and state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland.

This is a developing story. This will be updated.