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South Carolina House OKs bill allowing open carry of guns

March 17, 2021 GMT
South Carolina Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D-Hopkins, speaks against a bill allowing people to carry guns openly in the state on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Columbia, South Carolina. Johnson said open carry for a Black man like him could be dangerous. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D-Hopkins, speaks against a bill allowing people to carry guns openly in the state on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Columbia, South Carolina. Johnson said open carry for a Black man like him could be dangerous. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
South Carolina Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D-Hopkins, speaks against a bill allowing people to carry guns openly in the state on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Columbia, South Carolina. Johnson said open carry for a Black man like him could be dangerous. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House gave key approval Wednesday to a bill allowing people to carry guns without concealing them.

Legislators voted 82-33 in favor of the so-called open-carry bill after more than six hours of debate, with some Democrats joining Republicans. The legislation would allow people who already have a concealed-weapons permit to keep those guns visible in public.

The state is just one of five without open carry, joining atypical partners such as California, Florida, Illinois and New York.

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The bill is enthusiastically backed by many Republicans and conservatives, who have said it makes sense to let people carry the weapons they can already have in a visible holster. Laws against pointing a gun at someone or threatening someone with a gun without a legal reason would remain on the books.

“This bill brings us in line with the vast majority of the country,” said lead bill sponsor Rep. Bobby Cox, a Republican from Greenville.

Some Democrats said legalizing open carry would lead to more violence and death in the state, and they accused Republicans of voting for the bill to win political points with voters.

Democratic state Rep. Jermaine Johnson of Hopkins said open carry is a privilege for white people, but dangerous for a Black man like him — a former college basketball player who is 6-foot-7 (200 centimeters) and has tattoos.

“This bill as it stands will be no more than legalized hunting for Black people,” Johnson said. He urged lawmakers to see the issue through the eyes of African Americans.

“I’m 35 years old,” Johnson said. “I would love to live as long as some people in here.”

The Republican majority cast aside dozens of amendments from members of both parties, ranging from letting people with felonies regain their gun rights after completing their sentences to creating a state gun-buyback program.

The House did adopt an amendment by Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Democrat from the city of Bamberg, that adds proper firearm handling and de-escalation strategies to mandatory training requirements. Lawmakers also approved tweaks to the bill to give private and public employers and businesses, as well as property owners, the option to ban open carry on their premises.

Currently, South Carolina requires a background check and training to get a concealed-weapon permit, but no additional training is required after the license is issued.

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A “constitutional carry” bill that would let people own guns without any permit requirements is also slated to be debated in the House later this spring after it passed a House committee Tuesday.

Prior attempts to expand gun laws in the state have died repeatedly, though this year’s proposal picked up steam after Republicans gained five seats in the General Assembly in the 2020 elections.

Some law enforcement leaders have said the bill could lead to more gun violence and domestic killings in a state that is often ranked among the worst in the country for such violence. They said fights could escalate to shootings more quickly under open carry and that such a law would make it hard for police to sort out who is committing a crime.

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Associated Press writer Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.

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Michelle Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.