Guns (copy)

A pistol in police custody. Alan Hawes/Staff 

COLUMBIA — A bill that would allow South Carolinians to carry their guns openly without getting a permit continued through the Legislature Tuesday, while a proposal aiming to close the so-called Charleston loophole that is supposed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals has stalled for the year.

A Senate panel approved the open-carry measure, often referred to as "constitutional carry," by a 3-1 vote, bringing it just one step away from reaching the Senate floor. The House passed a separate but similar version of open carry earlier this year. 

Earlier Tuesday, a different Senate panel adjourned without voting on a bill that would require courts to quickly report to a national database when someone has been charged with a crime or received an order that prevents them from obtaining a gun. In addition, the background check waiting period would be extended from three to five days for two years while the databases are updated. 

Neither bill is likely to become law before the session ends May 11, but since this is the first of a two-year session, legislation will be considered again in January.

Sylvie Dessau, South Carolina chapter leader for gun safety advocacy group Moms Demand Action, said she was disheartened there was no vote on the background check bill.

"To see the permit-less carry bill, which is obviously a very dangerous bill, went through subcommittee and is headed to full committee is also disappointing," she said. 

Advocates for the open carry legislation say requiring gun owners to get a permit to possess a weapon goes against the U.S. Constitution.

"As a veteran I took an oath to uphold protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies," Lake Wylie resident John Lane said at the Senate hearing Tuesday. "I consider not just foreign, but domestic enemies, even when those enemies are my legislators proposing and passing laws that go against the Constitution of the United States."

Law enforcement groups, including Charleston Police, have spoken against the measure.

Sen. Sandy Senn, a Charleston Republican on the panel weighing the bill Tuesday, tried and failed to amend the bill to require training and permitting but allow open carry. Senn voted against the open carry bill.

Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Hartsville Democrat who chaired the subcommittee looking into open carry, said he was not in the business of killing bills and that he encouraged members of the panel to vote their conscience. Malloy voted in favor of the open-carry bill.

Earlier Tuesday, Malloy questioned the background check bill, saying he didn't believe it went far enough.

Gun reform activists have targeted the errant background check process that allowed convicted Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof to buy a pistol two months before the shootings inside the Charleston church in 2015 despite having a pending felony charge.

Malloy, who also sat on the panel looking at background checks, said while he supported the court reporting requirements in the bill, he did not think five days was enough time for a background check to be completed. A bill, sponsored by Malloy, that would extend the waiting period to 28 days, also was scheduled for discussion Tuesday but the panel ran out of time.

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Malloy, who represents the family of slain Emanuel pastor the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator, said an FBI report said agents need 24 to 28 days to fully complete a background check.

"The reporting requirements, great. The time period, I have an issue with," Malloy said. "Because I don't think there's a difference between three and five."

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he was frustrated so little time Tuesday morning was devoted to discussing the loophole bill, which he co-sponsored.

Instead, lawmakers spent much of the hour-long hearing discussing and approving a bill that would allow firearms to be exempted from being taken in bankruptcy proceedings. The bill later was approved by the Judiciary Committee and sent to the Senate floor.

Kimpson was part of a five-member panel of senators — including bill sponsor Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster — who traveled the state last year to hear what South Carolinians thought should be done about guns. He thought his bill was crafted to pass in the Senate.  

Kimpson said he would work to stop the open-carry bill from advancing any further.

“They will have to wait until next year as well, if I have anything to do with it,” he said.

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

Maya T. Prabhu covers the Statehouse from Columbia. She previously covered city government and other topics in South Carolina and Maryland. Maya has a bachelors in English from Spelman College and a masters in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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