COLUMBIA — A Senate subcommittee passed a bill to thunderous applause Wednesday that would allow people to carry guns in public in South Carolina without a concealed weapons permit.
The vote was taken after a public hearing packed with gun supporters, who listened politely and cheered anyone who spoke about protecting the Second Amendment or pointed out criminals weren’t likely to follow any gun laws.
Supporters of the open-carry bill said it still needs some more work to make sure there aren’t any loopholes. The subcommittee passed an amendment banning all felons from carrying handguns. Currently, only felons convicted of a violent crime are banned from carrying guns under state law. It goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.
Anyone who wants to carry a gun in public has to have a permit and keep it concealed. It takes at least eight hours of training to get permission to carry a concealed weapon.
The bill would take away the need for the permit and training. While it has the backing of gun supporters, police officers and law enforcement groups are a little more leery.
Some worry about having people carrying guns in public with no training on how to use them. Others, like Charleston Police Capt. Brian Ambrose, worry it will make officers’ jobs harder because they will have to wait for someone openly holding a gun to commit a crime before they can confront them. Ambrose said the argument that good people need guns to protect themselves from bad guys is alluring, but too simplistic, Ambrose said.
“Many times good people will do bad things. Imagine a domestic dispute or a work argument where a handgun has now been legally introduced,” Ambrose said.
But most of the nearly two dozen people who spoke said a concealed-weapon permit was an extra unnecessary step.
Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, told Ambrose that he was disappointed to see law enforcement officials testify against gun rights. “People are here begging for their God-given constitutional rights. Law enforcement testimony should be asking the government to do something. Government has already taken something away that shouldn’t have been taken away,” he said.
Former State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart spoke on behalf of the South Carolina chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. He asked lawmakers, if they did pass open-carry, to make sure they do it carefully and don’t create more problems. He also said there are more rights in the constitution than just the right to bear arms. “You also have a constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness whether you carry a gun or not carry a gun,” Stewart said.
Chris Kuper, director of federal legislation for the National Association for Gun Rights, said anyone who buys a gun should take classes to learn how to use it properly. But he said requiring the classes didn’t fit with the constitution.
Editor’s note: In a previous version of this story, The Associated Press misspelled the name of the director of federal legislation for the National Association for Gun Rights. His name is Chris Kuper.