SC senate panel closing in on bill allowing carrying guns without permit

The effort to advance legislation that would allow South Carolinians to carry firearms without a permit by the end of session continues in the Senate with fewer than three weeks remaining.

A Senate panel listened Tuesday to proponents and opponents of a bill by Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, that would enact the “SCConstitutional Carry Act of 2017.” The proposed law is similar to one the House passed earlier this month.

Like the House version, the Senate bill allows those who are legally permitted to own, carry or purchase a firearm to do so without having to obtain a permit. “Open carry,” which allows for a person to carry a firearm exposed on their person, also would be permitted.

The proposal also would prohibit drinking or committing a crime while carrying a firearm. And it bars the carrying of firearms into already prohibited locations, such as schools and courthouses. Both bills also keep the concealed weapons permitting process in place for those who would still like to have a permit.

But Martin requested the panel suspend discussion on his bill, and instead pick up the House bill to increase the proposal’s chances of becoming law by the end of session the first week of May.

“I just want to give people their constitutional rights to carry,” Martin said.

Opponents of the bill outnumbered those who favor its advancement at the hearing Tuesday. Among the opponents was Jake Knotts, a former Lexington senator who was instrumental in the establishment of South Carolina’s concealed weapons permit law.

Knotts, a certified firearms instructor, argued that the current training requirement teaches safety. He also cautioned against attempting to advance either the House or Senate bill without giving it time to be debated properly.

“A bill like this needs to be debated fully on the Senate floor or in full committee,” Knotts said. “I’m not against guns, but I’m against any irresponsible gun law that’s going to cause people out there in the general population to be scared.”

Talbert Black, a proponent of the bill, said that he also supports training and encourages firearms carriers to receive it.

“I don’t think, however, the government should be the entity that sets what level of training that is,” said Black, adding there are people who attend training sessions who should be teaching the classes instead.

The panel, however, took no action after listening to testimony for about an hour. The chairman of the panel, Darlington Democratic Sen. Gerald Malloy, said the subcommittee will resume testimony during a future hearing that likely will be held next week.

As for advancing the House bill instead of the Senate’s, Malloy said “it’s up to the committee.” He said there was “some concern” that if the bill hits the Senate floor, “it will be pushed very fast.”

“I think this bill will pass or fall on its merits,” said Malloy, later adding it was the responsibility of senators to “pass good legislation for South Carolina.”