Impassioned pleas by legislators from both sides of the aisle failed to stop a majority of House members Wednesday from advancing a bill that allows for the carrying of firearms without a permit.
After a perfunctory House final vote on Thursday, the bill will head for the Senate, where it is expected to fail, so it won’t become law.
On a 64-46 vote Wednesday, however, the S.C. House of Representatives passed the bill, which had been clouded in controversy over how it progressed through committee and allegations that Republicans stymied debate.
“The legislative history of this bill is an embarrassment,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who repeatedly attempted to thwart a vote on the bill after Republicans invoked a procedural move that limited debate.
The bill calls for what proponents refer to as “constitutional carry,” or allowing those who can legally buy a firearm to carry a concealed weapon without having to obtain a permit.
It also allows for open carry, which grants weapons holders the ability to carry their firearms on their person for everyone to see. The law still would bar carrying a firearm while committing a crime.
Smith was not alone in trying to delay a vote. Several Republicans joined in, because they were against how the bill was advanced or didn’t like parts of the proposed law.
Rep. Gary Clary, R-Pickens, said he was against the bill because during his time as a judge and as a legislator, he has advocated for allowing all sides to have their say. Invoking a procedural vote to limit debate prevented that. He also said he just thinks “it’s a bad bill.”
“I just think that those are hard to overcome,” Clary said. “The whole idea that we just stifled debate goes against everything I believe in.”
Though Clary said he supports the Second Amendment, he said the concealed-weapons permitting process South Carolina has is important. That process requires applicants to attend proficiency classes and pass a state background check.
Like Clary, Rep. Bill Crosby, R-Charleston, called the proposal a “bad bill.” He was against the portion that allows for open carry.
While dangling his concealed-weapons permit from his wallet, Crosby stressed he is “for guns” and the Second Amendment. He said he just didn’t think this change is needed.
“This bill doesn’t help the Second Amendment,” Crosby said. “All it does is it makes these good ol’ boys who like to have guns strapped to their hips not conceal them.”
Crosby said he is thankful for the Senate, which will probably kill the bill by having it languish in committee. Previous permit-less carry bills have suffered that fate in past years.
There were also several attempts to change the bill that failed. One amendment called for the completion of a background check before a firearm can be sold. Another would have required would-be firearm carriers to complete a state gun safety education course.
Laurens Republican Rep. Mike Pitts, who sponsored the bill, said he understood the concerns of the legislators who proposed those changes. But he thought there were other ways to address them.
He said the problem with background checks is that the federal government has to invest more resources into completing them in a timely manner. And though he believes there should be some training for those who carry firearms, he says government-mandated or supervised training isn’t the answer.
As for those who oppose open carry, Pitts stressed there are states that already allow it without problems.
“Personally, I wouldn’t (open carry),” Pitts said. “I’d rather carry concealed because I don’t want the bad guys to know if I have one or not.”
If the bill becomes law, South Carolina would be one of 11 states to allow permit-less carry.
Smith, who stressed that he, too, is a Second Amendment advocate, said he also hopes the Senate will kill the bill – and hopes the House never allows a bill to be fast-tracked in this manner again.
“What was done by that action was an absolute offense to this institution,” Smith told lawmakers, later saying it was a “shameful” chapter for the chamber.