COLUMBIA- With the stroke of her pen, Gov. Nikki Haley plans to enact a measure on Tuesday that would allow those with concealed firearms and the proper documentation the ability to enter a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol.
Gun rights groups have praised the law, which they view as a modest measure that allows law abiding gun carriers with Concealed Weapons Permits to enter a business that was previously off limits to them. A CWP holder cannot drink alcohol while carrying a weapon, and restaurants can prevent patrons from walking in with guns by posting a designated sign.
The law takes effect when Haley signs it, which is expected at 10:30 a.m. at the Statehouse.
If a CWP holder is armed and caught drinking in a restaurant or bar, the offender could lose his or her concealed weapons permit for five years and face a misdemeanor charge that could carry up to two years in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, lawmakers said. The bill also does away with an eight-hour training class to obtain a CWP, although the state will still mandate the same criteria, centered on gun safety and use, as it had before. There are roughly 200,000 CWP holders in the state.
Last year, the Legislature strengthened state reporting requirements to ensure those designated as mentally ill by the courts could not buy a firearm. "We did that at the same time we did the restaurant carry bill," said Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Summerville, who sponsored the restaurant carry bill. "When you look at those two bills together... it shows the General Assembly takes a measured approach to these things."
William Hamilton, a Charleston lawyer and liberal activist, said that the state is focusing on the wrong things. In a poor state where many lack access to adequate healthcare and education, Columbia legislators should tackle those problems instead of expanding the rights of gun owners, he said. "They offer not safe communities where we help each other, but a retreat into fear with the threat of mayhem. Do we choose the values of 'Mayberry' or 'The Walking Dead'?" he said. He also said that the gun bill distracts people from the real issues.
"This is a cheap way to give people the illusion of power," he said.
Haley, a CWP holder who touted a handgun she received for Christmas on Facebook, told reporters recently that if she owned a bar or restaurant, she would "absolutely" allow those with the weapons in the establishment.
Hamilton had handed out yellow cards around Charleston trying to organize against the bill. Now that it's becoming law, he said he's handing out new cards that tell restaurant owners and managers, as well as other businesses, to put up a sign if they don't want those with concealed weapons to come in.
The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has also taken up the issue, he said.
The new law carries with it a violent, negative worldview, Hamilton said. "This is not what Charleston was like 30 years ago," he said.
Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, a retired police officer and CWP holder who pushed the bill in the House, said he remembers when people said that it would be the "Wild West" when the CWP law was debated in South Carolina years ago. That never came to pass, and he expects little effect from the newest law concerning weapon's permit holders.
"I think in the long run people are going to view it as much ado about nothing," he said.