South Carolina is one of the few states that still ban the open carrying of firearms, but that prohibition could soon disappear, though the calendar may pose the biggest hurdle to any changes to state law.
A state Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would allow carry licensees to carry either openly or concealed, though gun control activists have launched a campaign to derail the legislation before the full Senate holds a vote.
The Legislature only has two weeks left on its regular work calendar, and if the Senate fails to take the bill up then, it could be kicked to next year where it has an even greater chance of passage before the two-year session ends.
But it is still unclear whether proponents of expanding the Second Amendment to allow open carry will have the votes necessary in the Senate, a chamber that has so far avoided and killed legislation that would loosen gun rules in the state.
Testifying virtually, part of a two-day hearing schedule this week, opponents asked lawmakers why the rush on the legislation.
Doctors asked senators to picture a child, riddled with bullet holes. A Lancaster County school teacher shared the names of students affected by gun violence. A University of South Carolina student asked senators to heed concerns from law enforcement that includes the chief of the State Law Enforcement Division.
The general public is safer with the concealed weapons permit required to own a gun than the open carry bill, testified Robert Stewart, the former longtime SLED chief.
“There’s a lot of safety factors built into the current law,” Stewart said.
The anti-gun rhetoric heard in response to the bill doesn’t match the reality of what the legislation would actually do. South Carolina is one of just five states that bans the open carrying of firearms, and even under the current proposal open carry would be limited to those who possess a valid license to carry. In other words, this doesn’t change who can legally carry a firearm in the state, only how they can carry.
While Robert Stewart claims there are a lot of safety factors in the current law, there’s also a big problem. Even inadvertent displays of a lawfully carried and concealed firearm can be considered a crime, which could lead to individuals facing charges simply because their t-shirt rode up or their jacket flapped in the wind.
Gov. Henry McMaster has already said he’ll sign the bill if it gets to his desk, which will hopefully put more pressure on the state Senate to act in the two weeks remaining in the current session.
Personally, I’d prefer to see a pure Constitutional Carry bill, but if open carry with training is facing uncertainty in the Senate, the prospects of a true permitless carry bill passing out of the chamber appear slim (though the South Carolina House of Representatives did pass a permitless carry bill earlier this month).
The “open carry with training” bill is a modest step in the right direction, and one that should be supported by pro-2A state Senators. Here’s hoping that gun owners in the state flood the inboxes and phone lines for their state senators, urging them to sign on and demand a vote on this truly common sense piece of legislation.
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