SC senators pass bill allowing open gun carry with a permit

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina senators approved a bill Thursday allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns in the open.

The Senate voted 28-16 on Thursday on the so-called open carry bill after about a dozen hours of debate spanning three days.

The vote allowed Republican senators to bookend a pair of legislative wins during the 2021 session that conservatives have been unable to obtain for years — a bill outlawing nearly all abortions was finally passed by the Senate in January. It became law in February but isn’t being enforced because of a lawsuit.

Republicans gained three Senate seats in the November election and have a 30-16 advantage in the body.

The proposal allows so-called open carry of guns for people who undergo training and background checks to carry guns hidden under a jacket or other clothing.

Senators made changes to the bill. One lowered the number of bullets to 25 that someone must fire at a target in an accuracy test to get a permit. It is now 50 shots. Supporters of the amendment said the lack of ammunition recently makes it harder to find enough bullets.

Other changes included eliminating the $50 fee the State Law Enforcement Division charges to get a permit and reducing the number of days that court clerks have to report any charge or other issue that could revoke a permit to the state police to five days. It is currently 30 days.

The bill heads back to the House which passed it in March. If the members approve the Senate changes, it heads to the governor. If they don’t, then a small group of lawmakers will try to work out the differences.

Thursday’s debate began with Sen. Marlon Kimpson reminding senators he has been pushing his own gun bill for five years without success.

The Democrat from Charleston wants to close a loophole that allowed the shooter in the Charleston church massacre in his district in 2015 to get his gun despite a pending drug charge that might have scuttled the sale.

The person doing the background check called the wrong police agency looking for details on the charge and because they didn’t respond in three days, the gun was sold.

Kimpson’s proposals were all ruled not relevant to the bill and tossed out.

Kimpson said he wouldn’t stop fighting to close the co-called “Charleston Loophole”’ and to fight against the expansion of who can carry guns and where and how they can be carried.

“Carrying firearms visibly in public is a dangerous, dangerous public policy that makes it more likely that disagreements will turn violent,” Kimpson said.

Another amendment that failed on a 30-14 vote would have allowed people with a permit to take a gun into the Statehouse.

“I know we get license plates and parking places and honorables. We should be subjected to the same risk we ask our constituents to be subjected to,” said Rep. Dick Harpootlian, a Democrat from Columbia.

An amendment sponsored by Republican Rep. Josh Kimbrell of Spartanburg would have allowed guns to be carried in public buildings by employees and in the Statehouse by anyone.

“I wouldn’t want to reserve something for myself that I didn’t reserve for my constituents,” said Sen. Danny Verdin, a Republican from Laurens.

The proposal was rejected on a 31-13 vote with several Republicans joining Democrats who said the Statehouse is not like a grocery store or other public space and allowing people with guns into the capitol and legislative office buildings would be a security nightmare.

“The people at Bi-Lo don’t raise people’s taxes,” said Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Democrat from Hopkins.

Opponents of the open carry bill include a number of current law enforcement leaders, including State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, and the police chiefs and sheriffs in some of the state’s largest population centers.

South Carolina is one of only five states without some type of open carry law, joining atypical partners such as California, Florida, Illinois and New York.

The House earlier this year passed both the open carry bill and a separate bill allowing anyone who can legally own a gun to carry it in public with no permit. Senators rejected changing the bill to that language Wednesday. ___

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Jeffrey Collins
Jeffrey Collins
I cover South Carolina.