SC lawmakers revive effort to remove gun permit requirements

Republican lawmakers in South Carolina have revived efforts to allow firearm owners to carry handguns without a permit, either openly or concealed.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in South Carolina have revived efforts to allow firearm owners to carry handguns without a permit, either openly or concealed.

Proposed legislation overcame another hurdle Tuesday when the state’s House Judiciary Committee approved it by a 16-7 vote along party lines. The bill must still pass in the House, then the Senate.

The latest attempt to loosen gun restrictions received a boost when House Republicans reached a supermajority after last fall’s elections. But similar proposals have recently divided the GOP-controlled Legislature.

The bill still bars carrying a gun at correctional facilities, courthouses, polling places on Election Day, preschools, religious sanctuaries and doctor’s offices, among other places.

It also prohibits firearm possession for people convicted of a crime with a prison sentence of more than one year. A first offense could lead to five years’ imprisonment. A second offense would carry anywhere from five to 20 years’ imprisonment.

A 2021 law allowed people with concealed weapons permits from South Carolina to carry their guns in the open. The law also enabled people who undergo training and background checks to keep guns hidden under their clothing or in their vehicle anywhere there isn’t a sign prohibiting it.

But a long slog ensued two years ago before that law took effect. Senators rejected an attempt to remove the permit requirement before ultimately passing a proposal allowing so-called open carry of guns for people who undergo training and background checks.

The U.S. Supreme Court has since greatly expanded gun rights nationwide.

Tuesday’s committee meeting was packed with gun-control advocates wearing red shirts for the advocacy group Moms Demand Action, which has called the bill reckless for removing required training on how to responsibly carry firearms in public.

“Let’s make one thing clear: lawmakers are preparing to strip us of one of our last remaining public safety laws — and at the expense of our lives,” Patty Tuttle said in a Moms Demand Action statement.

“Keeping our current system of concealed weapons permitting does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights. It is a simple mechanism that makes all South Carolinians safer,” the retired U.S. Air Force veteran added.

Republican Rep. Bobby Cox, the leading sponsor, said at a previous subcommittee meeting that training would still be encouraged. Tommy Dimsdale, the executive director of Palmetto Gun Rights, emphasized recently that the permit system would remain optional.

“This does nothing more than restore law-abiding gun owners’ ability to carry a lawfully-possessed gun on their person in public without being fingerprinted like a common criminal, obtaining government-mandated training and carrying around a permission slip to do so,” Dimsdale told lawmakers on Feb. 8.

Democrats opposed the bill. Some said the effort to forego training requirements is a step in the wrong direction amid continued reports of mass shootings. Others feared the proposal could imperil police officers who would have no way of identifying whether someone at a crime scene should have a gun.

“I want everyone that carries a gun to be as well-trained as Rep. Cox,” said Democratic Rep. Spencer Wetmore, adding: “I want to know that these guns are in the hands of the good guys.”

Debates over gun laws remain ever-present as communities across the United States are ravaged by gun deaths and mass shootings. Dozens of people have died in mass shootings this year.

Late Monday, a gunman killed three students and wounded five at Michigan State University before fatally shooting himself. The 43-year-old man had a previous gun violation. Earlier on Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Robert Williams requested the House pause in a moment of silence for all victims of mass shootings.

“How long? How long do we have to sit and wait to do things about the mass killing of innocent people in our country?” Williams said.


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