Politics & Government

Who’s packing heat at the courthouse? Bill would expand SC’s concealed weapon law

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson tglantz@thestate.com

A bill in the S.C. House would add prosecutors in the S.C. Attorney General’s Office to the list of judicial officers allowed to carry concealed weapons into courthouses across the state.

Currently, S.C. law permits judges, magistrates, masters-in-equity, workers’ compensation commissioners, solicitors and assistant solicitors with a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the state when carrying out their official duties.

“We prosecute the same type of violent criminals and come from the same courthouses,” S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson told The State.

“This bill will put (prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office) on par with every other prosecutor in the state,” the Lexington Republican said, adding gun-carrying staffers would be required to be certified by the State Law Enforcement Division.

“I probably would not carry because I’m not in a courtroom every day,” Wilson said, adding he has carried a concealed weapon but not recently.

“Most (prosecutors), probably, may not avail themselves of the opportunity but should have the right to (do so) if they feel they need to protect themselves ... if that rare event occurs,” where they are confronted outside a courthouse by a violent individual upset by the outcome of a court proceeding, Wilson said.

Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling, who has a concealed carry permit, said he knows of several S.C. judges and prosecutors that carry a concealed weapon. “But I don’t think it’s widespread,” he added.

“I’m not aware of a solicitor that’s been confronted in the courthouse that has needed a weapon,” Swerling said, noting judges have been assaulted in other states in recent years because of their rulings, particularly in family court, where emotions run high.

State Rep. Micah Caskey, a Lexington Republican and former assistant solicitor, voted to advance the bill to the House floor for approval along with other members of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

As a prosecutor, Caskey said he carried a firearm when prosecuting certain cases, particularly drug cases. Not all courthouses across the state possess the same security, especially smaller, rural courthouses, he said.

“Assistant attorneys general have a unique position because the cases they’re dealing with (involve serious crimes) or are bigger in scope,” he said. “It’s the walk from the courthouse to the car (where prosecutors sometimes feel vulnerable). There are definitely cases where there’s a legitimate fear of retribution from co-conspirators.”

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Tom Barton covers South Carolina politics for The State. He has spent more than a decade covering local governments and politicians in Iowa and South Carolina, and has won awards from the S.C. Press Association and Iowa Newspaper Association for public service and feature writing.