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Editorial: SC open-carry gun bill starts bad, gets worse. Some want to make it worse still.

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There's no reason to believe South Carolina's concealed-weapons law violates anyone’s constitutional rights, and no one has presented a good reason to allow anyone other than police to carry guns openly. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File

There’s probably nothing we can say at this point to convince S.C. senators who don’t already realize that it’s a bad idea to let concealed-weapon carriers start carrying their guns on their hips.

After all, they've heard all the arguments against it, and still they voted more than 2-to-1 last week to bypass committee and put a House-passed open-carry bill at the top of their agenda for debate as early as Tuesday.

They’ve heard from people who say they would feel threatened if they encountered someone wearing a gun, even if that person does nothing (other than wearing the gun) to threaten them. And from those who argued that having those guns visible puts everybody on edge, increasing the risk that disagreements will escalate into deadly violence.

They’ve heard from police who warn that it'll be even tougher to distinguish the bad guys from the good guns in active-shooter situations. And more commonly, they’ll be placed in a legally precarious situation when citizens call to complain about someone walking around their neighborhood with a holstered gun — because that’s not a crime, and legally speaking, they have no more justification for questioning someone walking down the street with a gun than someone walking down the street without a gun. (Retired SLED Chief Robert Stewart warned that the bill could get a lot of permit holders killed, because carrying a handgun openly would make them target No. 1 if they were present when a crime was being committed.)

We believe the entire bill should be defeated, because there is no reason to believe that the current law violates anyone’s constitutional rights, no one has presented a good reason it’s needed, and actual conservatives don’t change things without a legitimate reason.

But even if they aren’t willing to do that, we would urge senators at least to pay attention to some other provisions of H.3094 that have gotten little attention.

The bill does allow local governments to prohibit the open carry of weapons at protests, festivals and other organized events that require a permit. But it says they can’t extend the ban for any period before or after the event, which seems dangerous given that violence associated with protests often occurs after the event officially ends.

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The bill also says local governments “may not exercise the provisions of this subsection” if “a permit is not applied for and issued prior to an event” — which seems to invite people who want a fully armed protest to hold it without applying for a permit.

H.3094 also strips a provision from state law that makes it clear that state law “does not affect the authority of any county, municipality, or political subdivision to regulate the careless or negligent discharge or public brandishment of firearms, nor does it prevent the regulation of public brandishment of firearms during the times of or a demonstrated potential for insurrection, invasions, riots, or natural disasters.”

State law doesn’t even define brandish, but several local governments, including Charleston, prohibit it. So it's not clear that police could charge someone who started waving his or her gun around in a menacing way.

Of course, the worst part of the bill is the part that isn’t in it yet: Some senators want to transform a bill that allows open carry for licensed concealed-weapons permit holders into a bill that allows everybody who isn’t legally barred from owning guns to carry those guns openly.

At least people with concealed-carry permits have passed criminal background checks and received some rudimentary training in what state law allows and doesn’t allow them to do with their guns and where they are and are not allowed to carry those guns. And the people who apply for the permits tend to be law-abiding citizens — although SLED reports that it had to deny 2,660 permits in 2020 and that it revoked 1,199 more, which means not every one with a permit is law-abiding or otherwise fit to carry a gun.

Supporters call the idea of letting everybody carry their guns openly “constitutional carry.” That's the ultimate in trying to rewrite reality through language, because as Chief Stewart testified last week, if the U.S. Constitution gave people the right to carry their guns in public, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Except for a small portion of the population on the extremes, no one has ever believed the Constitution allows that; the U.S. Supreme Court has never even hinted that it does. Just the opposite, in fact. (The case the high court agreed to hear last month challenges a New York law that is far more restrictive than South Carolina's much more conservative law that was in place prior to our current concealed-carry law.)

The only reason to even consider such a radical law would be if we were backed into a corner and forced by the court to pass it, which hasn't happened. For that matter, no one has presented another reason that would justify allowing even permit holders to carry their guns openly. 

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