COLUMBIA -- South Carolina lawmakers on Thursday delayed a bill that would allow anyone who can legally own a handgun to carry it concealed without a permit.
The state's top law enforcement officer said he doesn't oppose a looser requirement for carrying guns, but the state's Sheriffs' Association disagreed.
South Carolina's move to loosen gun laws comes after the Jan. 8 shootings in Arizona that killed six and left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. On Dec. 14, an armed man threatened school board members in Florida before he was fatally shot by security.
"It's unfortunate that there's so much in this bill that needs to be fixed," said Robert Butler, a lobbyist for South Carolina GrassRoots GunRights, which asked for more than a dozen amendments.
But state Rep. Thad Viers, a Myrtle Beach Republican, said many amendments would doom the bill to reduce the need to get a concealed weapons permit.
Advocates say the change would align South Carolina laws with what the U.S. Constitution guarantees.
"It gives us time to make corrections -- necessary corrections," said state Rep. Mike Pitts, a Laurens Republican. "I have no problem with us taking the time to make sure we get it right."
State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd said the state's law agency doesn't generally object to the changes. But there are concerns about dropping background checks. For instance, people get concealed weapons permits after criminal background checks but don't have to repeat the check when they buy guns.
Still, Lloyd said other states that have moved to concealed weapons laws without permits haven't seen major problems.
"I've yet to see a sort of situation where we've seen an increase in crime or an increase in shooting-related criminal related activity," he said. "Law-abiding citizens carrying weapons really does not concern me."
With the number of illegal guns on the street, Lloyd said citizens should have better access to guns of their own. "I'm not quite sure I wouldn't tell a citizen in some of these neighborhoods: 'You might be on your own at some point. You might not need one gun, you might need two."
The South Carolina Sheriffs' Association opposes the measure and said things like background checks are needed, as well as restrictions on where guns can be carried. The group said gun rights advocates want to erode the law.
"Since 1996, these people have come to the Statehouse every year with an amendment that weakens it, chips away at it, broadens it to the eventual conclusion that we don't need it anymore," said Jeff Moore, the association's executive director. "Eventually, you chip enough, it's meaningless."
Moore said it would be simpler just to scrap the law and say that anyone over 17 can carry concealed or unconcealed weapons.
"That's what they want, let's throw it on the table," he said. "They don't want background checks, they don't want permits."