Bill allowing guns in the open, without permits, likely doomed

jself@thestate.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Lee Bright South Carolina Legislature, Senate Mugs, 2012

  • Constitutional Carry Act

    The Senate Judiciary Committee meets Tuesday to consider a bill, sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, that would allow people to carry firearms, concealed or not, with or without permits or training.

  • IF YOU GO

    Where: Gressette Building, Room 105

    When: 3 p.m. Tuesday

    Watch or listen online: scstatehouse.gov

A bill that would allow South Carolinians to carry guns in public — concealed or “open” in plain sight, with or without permits or training — may meet a swift death, senators say.

The state Senate’s Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the proposal Tuesday. It faces heavy opposition, said the committee’s chairman, state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

Sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, the Constitutional Carry Act became the new focus of 2nd Amendment activists after Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a bill that allows South Carolinians to carry licensed concealed firearms into restaurants and bars as long as they do not drink alcohol.

At the restaurant-carry bill signing last week, Haley, who is seeking re-election in November, said she would sign Bright’s bill if it reached her desk.

“Criminals are dangerous, and ... every resident should be allowed to protect themselves from criminals,” Haley said, responding to a question about the fears of some state senators that Bright’s proposal would end permitting and training requirements.

Bright, one of five Republicans challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham in June’s GOP primary, has been pushing the Constitutional Carry Act since last year.

But it is unlikely Haley’s endorsement will propel the bill to passage.

Six states, including South Carolina, and the District of Columbia completely ban the visible — or “open” — carrying of a handgun, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Thirty-one states allow open carrying of handguns without a permit or license, though most states restrict where those weapons can be carried, including in businesses that serve alcohol.

Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming allow residents to carry concealed weapons without a permit, according to National Rifle Association lobbyist Anthony Roulette, who attended Haley’s restaurant-carry bill signing last week. (That group contributed $3,500 to Haley’s re-election campaign last year.)

There is a chance that the Senate, eager to take up an ethics-reform bill after a recess during last week’s winter storm, might cancel Tuesday’s committee meetings, Martin said.

But if the meeting goes as planned, there likely will be enough votes — from Republicans and Democrats — to kill the proposal, Martin said. “I’m looking for some help and hope they’ll be with me come Tuesday, and vote their convictions,” said Martin, who opposes the bill.

Attempts to reach Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, Haley’s likely opponent in November’s election and a Judiciary Committee member, were unsuccessful last week and Monday. Sheheen did not attend the Judiciary Committee meeting when Bright’s proposal previously was discussed.

Supporters of the bill say the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution gives Americans the right to carry firearms without restrictions. They see the state’s requirements — of licensing, background checks, fingerprinting and training — as infringing on that constitutional right.

But critics say the bill could create a public threat.

State Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, said he fears Bright’s bill would put more of a burden on police officers, who would have to determine whether people carrying guns openly in public are criminals. “The public-safety person doesn’t really know what to do, whether or not they’re in danger, or whether or not they’re approaching a regular citizen carrying a gun.”

“It’s irresponsible for the governor, when we’re a major tourism state,” to endorse a bill that would allow people to carry weapons up and down the beach, said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

Some Republicans also oppose the bill.

State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said he and other senators, who voted recently to keep the bill alive for debate, will vote against the proposal if faced with an up or down vote.

Martin said the state expanded citizens’ rights to carry guns when it established the concealed-weapons law. That program requires gun owners to undergo background checks and be trained before getting a license to carry a firearm in public. Most gun owners do not mind that extra burden, he said, in order to be given the right to carry a firearm in public.

Martin also said some of the bill’s advocates want their firearms to be visible because they think that will prevent criminals from attacking them. But that could lead to accidents, he added.

“When you reach for that gun, you invoke somebody else’s right to protect themselves,” he said. “I foresee a lot of problems with that.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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