COLUMBIA, SC Imagine a South Carolina where any residents older than 21 with no criminal record could carry a concealed Glock or Smith & Wesson wherever they went – and they wouldn’t be required to take a time-consuming course about how to handle guns safely.
That’s the idea of State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, one of the more outspoken gun rights advocates in the S.C. General Assembly. He has sponsored a House-passed proposal that would remove the requirement that people wanting to carry a concealed handgun must first take and pass a concealed weapons course.
Having to take a gun safety course is too burdensome a requirement for law-abiding citizens 21 or older with no criminal history or court-adjudged mental illness, Pitts said.
“My proposal would free a law-abiding South Carolinian from the requirement of having to take a course to exercise his Second Amendment rights to carry a concealed weapon on his person,” Pitts said.
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Pitts’ dream is a nightmare for many law enforcement and combat veterans.
“Having lived in an environment where virtually everyone is armed, it’s not what I’d like to see for South Carolina,” said Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, who spent a year on the front lines in Afghanistan where he had to sleep with a loaded gun.
“Why would we want to allow a bunch of untrained amateurs – for want of a better word – to go around with concealed weapons?” said Smith, noting the military and law enforcement require training so soldiers and officers can be accurate and not kill people accidentally.
Pitts’ proposal and others that would broaden the categories of people allowed to carry concealed weapons in the state are now before a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee.
No hearing date has been scheduled. Subcommittee chairman Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he will take testimony on both sides on the bills soon.
“I think training to get a concealed weapons permit should be mandatory right now, but I haven’t heard any testimony,” Hutto said. “I’m going to be open about it. But I think the system we have now works fine.”
Pitts, a former law enforcement officer, said the weapons handling and safety course the state now requires for people wishing to get a concealed weapons permit has good information. “Our course is the gold standard of all the states,” he said.
But that course shouldn’t be forced on people, he said. “Many people fear their own government and fear being on a permitting list of any kind.”
Already, Pitts said, many otherwise law-abiding citizens now illegally tote concealed weapons in their pocket or purse.
“They just haven’t taken the time or can’t afford a concealed weapons permit or they just don’t want to have to fool with government bureaucracy to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” Pitts said.
Concealed weapons courses cost $60 and usually last eight hours or less. They cover gun safety, gun handling, target acquisition, marksmanship, safe gun storage, and the state’s self-defense and use of deadly force laws. An instructor must certify the person taking the course is ready to carry a concealed weapon. A person who passes the course is issued a state permit so law officers will know that the person carrying a concealed gun is licensed to do so.
Pitts is chairman of a House Ways and Means subcommittee that oversees state funding for law enforcement, but law officers say they will oppose his proposal nonetheless.
Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association, said training is absolutely necessary.
“Folks show up at these concealed weapons courses who have never shot a gun before – they literally don’t know where to put the bullets or where to point the gun,” Bruder said. “It’s not that we’re anti-gun because we’re not. But if you’re going to be carrying a gun, we want to be sure you know how to use it for your protection and ours.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who heads one of the state’s largest sheriff’s departments, said Pitts’ bill defies common sense.
“The worst thing in the world is a gun in untrained hands,” Lott said. “We require police officers to undergo training so how can it be a good thing to let citizens not have to take a course?
▪ Would still allow people to get training in a concealed weapons course
▪ Would allow South Carolinians to purchase handguns they want to conceal from a licensed gun dealer, but not from a seller at a gun show
▪ Would keep current state requirements for people buying handguns: that they be 21, have no criminal record and not have been judged by a court to be mentally ill
▪ Would not allow people to carry a weapon openly. Many people are afraid of seeing others in public carrying weapons, Pitts said. “There’s no need in exposing people to a phobia if you don’t have to.”