Senate panel OKs gun-carrying bill

A House subcommittee passed a bill that would allow people to carry guns in public in South Carolina without a concealed weapons permit. File

COLUMBIA — If a House panel has its way, gun owners would be allowed to carry their weapons — concealed or openly — in South Carolina, whether they have a concealed weapons permit or not.

The House Judiciary subcommittee on Thursday easily passed a constitutional carry bill 3-0, with the panel's three Republicans voting in favor.

"It just simply says if I can legally own and I can legally carry, then I don't have to have a permit to do it in the state," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said.

The panel's two Democrats, Reps. James Smith of Columbia and Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster, were not in attendance.

Pitts introduced a similar bill last year that cleared the House but died in the Senate. This year's bill includes a provision to allow gun owners to openly carry their firearms.

Pitts introduced the bill, H. 3930, on Tuesday and a meeting was scheduled on Wednesday for Thursday. The meeting, which lasted a little more than five minutes, had no testimony other than comments from Pitts.

Gun control advocates said they were upset to hear of the bill's swift advancement without being able to offer input. The 9 a.m. Thursday meeting was announced and posted online at 8:18 a.m. Wednesday.

"As a South Carolinian, I am dismayed that some House Judiciary subcommittee members took it upon themselves to advance a dangerous piece of legislation, which would dismantle our state's permitting system, without hearing testimony and without all the committee members present," said Sylvie Dessau with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "Simply put, this is not how our democracy works."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said the pace of movement is quicker this year, after the General Assembly voted last year to shorten the session by about a month.

"We have the crossover date of April the 6th," Delleney said of the deadline to move bills from one chamber to the other to have a chance of passing this year without overwhelming support.

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"We had the votes on the subcommittee and when we go to the full committee that's where all the big work is going to happen," he added. "So I don't see how anybody can say it was rushed through."

If approved, the law would keep the state's concealed weapons permit program in place to continue with the reciprocity system South Carolina has with other states.

The proposed law also would not change any of the areas where guns are already prohibited under state or federal law, such as schools and airports, Pitts said. 

Norrell, who was out of the country this week and missed Thursday's subcommittee meeting, said she was disappointed that after the Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would grant national gun reciprocity for CWP holders, gun rights advocates still are pushing for more.

"It would have passed without us," Norrell said in a long-distance phone interview of her and Smith's minority role. "We'll take it up and take it on in full committee."

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.