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A crowd in Rock Hill Monday urged a state Senate panel to move quickly to pass a bill that would allow South Carolinians to carry handguns, concealed or not, without a permit.
More than 150 people packed a standing-room-only auditorium at York Technical College in Rock Hill for the hearing on the S.C. Constitutional Carry Act of 2013.
The bill would repeal a state law that requires residents to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to carry a firearm, the proposal’s sponsors say.
For several supporters, the decision facing lawmakers comes down to whether law-abiding citizens should have the right to protect themselves without jumping through unnecessary hoops.
“The debate is not only about freedom,” said Chris Crooke of Indian Land. “It’s about trust.
“You trust me to vote for you and entrust my freedoms and my liberties to you, yet I’ve got to have a concealed weapons permit?” Crooke asked rhetorically to applause.
Some speakers warned of government overreach.
“The reason you don’t trust us is because we may overthrow you,” said Jeff Mattox, a Tea Party-leaning government watchdog who frequents the State House.
“I don’t carry a concealed weapons permit because I refuse to register,” Mattox said. “It’s none of your damn business. Leave us alone. We want to be free. We don’t need your help!”
Though fewer in number, opponents urged the Senate panel – including the bill’s sponsors, state Sens. Lee Bright and Shane Martin, both Spartanburg Republicans – to abandon the proposal.
Suzanne Rallis, a member of Moms Demand Action gun-control group, urged the panel to reject the proposal, calling it irresponsible for not requiring a permit process.
“I respect the 2nd Amendment,” Rallis said. “I don’t want anyone to lose their guns. That’s not what we’re about here. But there are limits imposed on most amendments.”
Open carry movement
South Carolina is one of six states plus the District of Columbia that expressly bars the open carrying of a firearm, according to opencarry.org, an organization that tracks gun laws. The others states are Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois and New York.
But South Carolina is not the only state looking to expand gun owners’ rights to carry their weapons in public.
At least 16 states already have laws that specifically allow some form of carrying a firearm visibly in public, according to Jon Griffin, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those 16 require some type of permit to visibly carry a weapon.
However, at least nine states, including South Carolina, are considering laws to allow carrying a firearm with varying requirements.
If it becomes law, the S.C. proposal would apply only to people not already prohibited by other laws from carrying a firearm. It also would impose some limits on carrying firearms.
For example, it would be illegal to carry a weapon into a someone’s home without expressed permission. Business owners also could post signs banning weapons, and employers could prohibit employees from carrying guns on the job.
Last year, a similar bill failed to make it out of a Senate committee. Bright urged the crowd Monday to contact lawmakers to express their support for the proposal.
Training a good idea
Not all opponents of the bill Monday said they opposed carrying firearms or feared an overreaching government.
Some said they were concerned the law would encourage untrained civilians to walk around carrying handguns.
“For over 60 years, guns have been my life,” said Stuart Lord, a U.S. Army veteran and National Rifle Association instructor from York, adding some type of instruction is necessary to carry a gun safely.
“One of the hardest things that I have to teach my students is how to carry concealed,” Lord said, adding the part of “carrying open without proper training” that worries him “is people just buying a gun and carrying it.”
Janice Ayres said she also disagreed with many of the bill’s supporters.
“I haven’t heard anything in the news in the media or tonight that makes me feel threatened by the government,” said Ayres, who said she recently obtained a concealed weapons permit to protect herself and her home after a spike of killings in Lancaster County, where she lives.
“I don’t think it hurts to have that (training) requirement for people,” she said.