A week of debate in the Senate didn’t produce a good reason for South Carolina to let people carry handguns openly in public. We heard that people want to do this, and that some mistakenly believe the U.S. Constitution gives them a right to do it, but that’s not the same as a reason the state should allow it.
But now that the Senate has passed H.3094 by a vote of 28-16, and with Gov. Henry McMaster champing at the bit to sign any sort of open-carry bill into law, it’s clear that it’s going to be allowed. The only question at this point is what else is going to be included in the bill.
Unfortunately, the Senate added two bad provisions to the bill. Fortunately, it also added one good provision.
Let’s start with the bad: After senators wisely refused to fling the door wide open to everyone who wants to carry a gun, no background check or training required, they voted to eliminate the $50 application fee for the concealed-weapons permit that people still will need to carry weapons in public, concealed or unconcealed. That fee covers, among other things, the cost of the criminal background check and the red tape the department has to go through to deny a permit.
The so-called constitutional-carry crowd said people shouldn’t have to pay a fee to do what the Second Amendment allows them to do, which would be a great argument if the Second Amendment actually allowed them to carry guns anywhere they want. But the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made it clear that the Constitution doesn't provide unlimited gun rights.
So what this provision actually says is that the Senate thinks it’s so important for people to carry their guns in public that the vast majority of South Carolinians who do not choose to do that have to subsidize those who do. Just think about that.
Here’s another bad addition. Under current law, if someone wants a permit but “is unable to comply with” the part of the law that requires people to pass an approved training course or meet one of the many exemptions from this requirement, SLED has to provide the training course, at a below-market cost of $50. The Senate amended that to prohibit SLED from charging for the course, which means that reasonable people will now just demand their free SLED course rather than paying someone to provide it. So that’s one more way taxpayers will subsidize the proliferation of guns in public places.
On the other hand, the Senate added a provision to the bill that should reduce the chance that bad guys will be able to get a concealed weapons permit — or even purchase a gun.
Under current law, court officials have at least 30 days to notify SLED of court actions. An amendment offered by a bipartisan group of open-carry supporters and opponents and approved by an overwhelming voice vote cuts that time to five days, plus weekends, and adds indictments and restraining orders that might not otherwise be covered.
Supporters said this would prevent people from receiving a concealed-weapons permit after, say, a restraining order has been issued but before SLED knows about it. And that’s important. But more important is that it cuts down the lag time that can allow people to purchase weapons in violation of federal law.
Federal law requires people to pass an FBI criminal background check before purchasing a gun, but stores can sell the weapon if the FBI hasn’t denied an application within 72 hours. This nonsensical provision is what we call the Charleston loophole, a term coined after a white supremacist was able to purchase the gun he used to slaughter the nine innocents at Emanuel AME Church — even though he had an arrest that should have disqualified him from being able to buy a gun.
The Senate bill wouldn’t close the loophole, and it wouldn’t even have speeded up the background check of Dylann Roof: The problem in that case stemmed from a jail officer who entered the wrong arresting agency when the killer was arrested on drug charges, which led to an FBI official calling the wrong police department in search of additional information and delayed the background check past the three days allowed by federal law.
There’s no good reason to let people purchase guns just because the FBI hasn’t completed a background check in three days — particularly since nearly all background checks are completed within three days.
And if the Legislature is determined to encourage more people to carry guns in public, and in a more provocative way, it would make sense also to give the FBI a few more days to complete those background checks, to reduce the risk of selling guns to the wrong people.
But while we wait for the FBI to clean up its problems with background checks, and while we wait for Congress or the states to give it more time to conduct those checks, anything we can do to eliminate reporting delays in the criminal justice system will prevent some people from purchasing guns who are barred by law from purchasing them.
The least the House could do is to eliminate those gun-subsidy provisions the Senate tacked onto the open-carry bill, and accept the Senate's requirement that our court officials work a little faster to get current court information into criminal databases so we can keep guns out of the wrong hands.