Luther Reynolds guns hearing

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds testified against an open carry gun bill during an S.C. House subcommittee hearing on Feb. 10, 2021. Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

There are dueling protests at The Battery every Sunday — Confederate flag guys on one side of the street, Black Lives Matter and antifa on the other.

The police department assigns officers to be there regularly because (surprise, surprise) trouble breaks out frequently.

When a black man ominously showed up there with a semiautomatic rifle in July, residents worried, and the heritage gang threatened to start packing, too. The place where Charleston watched the Civil War begin has become a microcosm of the country’s political polarization.

And some state lawmakers ridiculously argue South Carolina would be safer if all these protesters were armed to the teeth.

Like clockwork, the General Assembly is again considering an open-carry law that would allow a lot of people to walk around strapped like extras in "Gunsmoke." It’s political pandering at its peak, and Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds told lawmakers last week it was flat-out dangerous.

“You want these flaggers and BLM people carrying guns down there?” Reynolds says. “Maybe this works in some areas, maybe it works in the Upstate, but a lot of urban areas have a problem with it — and there are no exceptions in this bill. Look at the protests we’ve had. Suppose a rose kid makes someone mad and they pull a gun in the Market. Who are they going to hit, that kid or five innocent people?”

Good point because, as Reynolds points out, the training required by this legislation is a joke: One day of instruction, part of it in a classroom, maybe shooting a box of shells or two on a range.

Yet some lawmakers want to see a broader “constitutional carry” that would require no training. As Reynolds says, a simple open-carry law isn't going to satisfy those folks.

Before Reynolds spoke Wednesday, a half-dozen open-carry proponents argued 45 other states have some form of this law. One guy from Pennsylvania said he always carried his gun openly before he moved here.

What these folks ignore is most states have other laws that work in concert with open carry. In Pennsylvania, for instance, you can’t open carry in Philadelphia. But South Carolina law makes it nearly impossible to grant exceptions for Charleston, or anyplace else.

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Still, these folks waxed on about their Second Amendment rights, and claimed only cops oppose this “because it cuts into their business.” Which suggests they have visions of vigilantism dancing in their heads.

Here’s the trouble with that. A week ago, I spent Friday night with code enforcement and police officers patrolling King Street. We were a block away from that shooting at the Public House — heard the gunshots clearly. The officers immediately took off running toward the sound of the shots.

Now, what do you think would have happened if they came upon three or four cowboys with guns in their hands? Answer: Two in the head, one in the chest — which is how police are trained to take out potentially dangerous armed assailants.

That very scenario played out in Alabama not too long ago. A good guy with a gun was trying to stop a shooter at a mall, and an officer shot him in the back. Because when everyone's packing, everyone's a suspect.

Reynolds says South Carolina usually shows a lot of deference to law enforcement, and SLED director Mark Keel has made it clear this is a bad idea. It will only make the police officers' jobs harder and more dangerous.

But lawmakers are moving forward anyway. Which is pretty hypocritical from a bunch who shut down the Statehouse last month because they were afraid of armed election protesters showing up … and who have metal detectors at every door to ensure no one carries around them.

This also would cost the state a lot of money. Tourism officials fear fewer people will come to Charleston if it’s the Wild West. Reynolds says people have told him they won't go anywhere near downtown if scores of people are packing.

Reynolds says his officers also will be inundated with calls when people spot somebody walking around with a gun on their hip. Bottom line, this doesn't help the police make the community safer.

And here's the other thing these Upstate guys haven't considered: They're doing this for the good ol' boys ... yet it applies to everyone.

Hope they have fun explaining why they armed antifa.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.