Open Letter: Permitless Carry

In the February 8 edition of The New Irmo News, Al Dozier provided a well-balanced article “Open Carry Bill Draws Fire” on recent action the SC Senate took in passing the “South Carolina Constitutional Carry/Second Amendment Preservation Act” (H-3594).

This bill is based on the premise that there should be few, if any, restrictions on the right of citizens to carry loaded firearms anywhere, anytime. Opponents call this bill “Permitless Carry” because, as noted in the article, “the legislation would make obtaining a concealed weapons permit and the training and background checks that come with it optional, while also lowering the age to carry a handgun in public from 21 to 18.”

The article reports that “Nathan Ballentine, who represents the Irmo-Chapin area, said he voted for the House version that passed last year after speaking with law enforcement and focusing on getting stronger penalties in the bill” for those who carry firearms illegally. The enhanced penalties provision could have been voted on as a stand-alone bill, but Republicans in both the House and the Senate refused to allow that. Instead, they tied it to Permitless Carry to make that bill more palatable to law enforcement.

Nevertheless, in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee meetings last year the President of the SC Police Chiefs Association and the President of the SC Law Enforcement Association, as well as several other chiefs of police, testified under oath that they were opposed to Permitless Carry. In his closing speech on the Senate floor on February 1, Senator Luke Rankin (R-Horry County) said, even with the enhanced penalties, “No one in law enforcement has asked for, and no one in law enforcement wants . . . this Permitless Carry bill.”

Supporters of the bill said they “hope” gun owners will choose to enroll in training classes.

Senator Rankin said that members of law enforcement have told him that they will “suffer loss of lives” when training is no longer mandated. He predicted that “despite our efforts to incentivize with a carrot or a stick you will see a dramatic decline” in the numbers of people enrolling in training classes. He reported that among other states that have passed Permitless Carry, training in “Georgia dropped by 60 percent, Oklahoma by 54 percent, Texas by 43 percent, Florida by 64 percent, Ohio by 71 percent, and Tennessee by 53 percent.”

One of the amendments the Senate passed requires the State Law Enforcement Division to provide free firearms training twice a month in every county in the state. The same amendment also requires SLED to “conduct a regular, statewide marketing campaign to inform South Carolinians that South Carolina law . . . allows law-abiding gun owners to carry their weapons without a permit.” Estimates of the cost for the free firearms training and the marketing campaign range from $5 million to $20 million.

Among the other amendments the Senate added to the bill was a provision that people “may lawfully store a firearm anywhere in a vehicle whether occupied or unoccupied.” (Imagine a road rage situation or even a routine traffic stop where a loaded pistol is resting on the passenger seat. What possibly could go wrong?) Current law says that firearms in vehicles must be securely contained in the glove compartment, console, or trunk. Even with those protections, Columbia and North Charleston rank among the top five municipalities in the country for guns stolen from vehicles.

The Permitless Carry bill passed along a party-line vote in the Senate (Republicans in favor, Democrats opposed), with the exception of one Republican (Rankin) who voted against it, and one Democrat (Fanning) who voted for it. It now goes back to the SC House for review. House leaders have already indicated they believe the Senate version is “too restrictive” and the bill will probably go to a Conference Committee to work out differences.

Miriam Johnson 


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