COLUMBIA — South Carolina senators took several steps Thursday to bring to a vote a bill that would allow licensed people to openly carry pistols and not hide them under a jacket.
The bill appeared to be running out of time to pass in 2021, but senators held two subcommittee meetings this week and then voted 27-12 on Thursday to send the bill straight to the Senate floor.
Senators then agreed to put the bill in a special slot where, by rule, it gets debated before most other legislation. There will be six days left in the 2021 session when legislators return Tuesday.
"There's significant interest among our caucus to try to move forward with it, so we made it an issue that we want to try to address this year," said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Republican from Edgefield.
The House has already approved the bill to allow so-called open carry of guns by people who already have a state-issued concealed weapons permit.
The proposal would allow anyone who passes the background check and a roughly eight-hour course to get a South Carolina concealed weapons permit to carry their pistol in the open. The House also passed a bill that would allow anyone who can legally carry a gun to do that in the open with no training at all, but that proposal has not been heard in the Senate.
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.
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.
Gun rights groups have made open carry a priority for years and put extra pressure on senators after Republicans won an extra three seats in the 2020 elections.