COLUMBIA — The state Senate’s Judiciary Committee struck down a bill Tuesday that would have allowed South Carolinians to carry firearms, concealed or not, with or without permits.
As written, the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, would have allowed felons whose crimes include “possession or use of a weapon of mass destruction, causing death,” to carry firearms without training or a permit, said committee chairman Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
A more than an hourlong debate ended with the panel refusing – by a 17-4 vote – to send the bill to the full Senate. The vote effectively kills the proposal for this year.
Senators questioned Bright, who is running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate, about whether he intended the bill to extend the right to carry a gun in public, without training or permits, to criminal offenders who have committed crimes not defined as “violent” in S.C. code but considered violent by the senators.
Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, read a list of those crimes. They included some assaults, criminal misconduct, administering poison with intent to kill, bank robbery, burglary, some levels of manufacturing illegal drugs, dog fighting and incest.
“You would think violent crimes of mass destruction causing death would be considered violent crimes,” Bright responded. He told the committee he had instructed his staff to look at ruling out violent criminals and was unaware of the offenses that Hembree listed.
Bright said he was open to amending the bill to exclude people who had committed those crimes, in return for its passage, but that proposal failed. Only Bright, plus state Sens. Tom Corbin, R-Greenville, Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, and Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, voted to advance the proposal to the Senate for debate.
The meeting was lightly attended. Absent were the 2nd Amendment supporters who have frequented meetings dealing with legislation proposing expanded gun rights.
Last week, Gov. Nikki Haley showed her support for Bright’s bill, saying she would sign it if it made it to her desk.
The debate also focused on how expansive 2nd Amendment rights should be and whether unarmed South Carolinians have a right to safety.
Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, said he grew up around guns and was taught how to handle them safely. But, he added, his rights include not being “shot by some yahoo who is defending himself – whether he’s right or not – in a public place that I have a right to be in, who doesn’t know anything about guns. Does that not offend my right to pursuit of life, liberty and happiness?”
Bright said he has looked at states that have passed similar laws. None have seen a rise in gun violence, he said.
“To me, the greater issue is the other person’s right to defend himself,” Bright said.
“I don’t see our citizenry as people who are going to go around looking for gunfights. I think they want to defend themselves. They don’t want to go have shootouts at OK Corral. They can do that now.”
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658