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SC Senate Stalls Bill Allowing Open Carry of Guns

Open Carry SC Senate subcommittee 04-27-21
Jeffrey Collins/AP
A supporter of a bill to allow people in South Carolina who already have concealed weapons permits to carry their guns in the open listens to a Senate subcommittee hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The bill doesn't appear to have time to pass this session. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The chances of South Carolina joining most other states allowing licensed people to openly carry pistols and not hide them under a jacket dimmed Tuesday as a small group of senators didn't find time to vote on a House-passed bill.

A Senate subcommittee set a 90-minute deadline to hear testimony about the open carry bill. Several senators held long conversations with witnesses and when the hour-and-a-half was up, the subcommittee adjourned without taking a vote and with several other witnesses waiting to speak online.

Sen. Tom Young, a Republican from Aiken, said he would hold another hearing “as soon as possible,” but with eight days left in the General Assembly's regular session, it seems doubtful the bill can make it through the subcommittee, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate.

The House passed the bill 82-33 last month. It would allow anyone who passes the background check and roughly eight-hour course to get a South Carolina concealed weapons permit to carry their pistol in the open. The House also passed a bill that would allow anyone who can legally carry a gun to do that in the open with no training at all, but that proposal has not been heard in the Senate.

South Carolina is one of only five states without some type of open carry law, joining atypical partners such as California, Florida, Illinois and New York.

Republicans gained three seats in the South Carolina Senate in the 2020 elections and the topics discussed and the actions taken this session by senators have been more conservative.

During the House subcommittee hearing on the open carry bill, lawmakers set a three-minute timer for witnesses and asked almost no questions.

The Senate hearing Tuesday meandered a bit more. Senators asked almost every witness a question and former State Law Enforcement Chief Robert Stewart spent about 30 minutes telling them why he opposed open carry.

“Now, if you see someone walking down the street with a pistol, you know something is wrong," said Stewart, who said the presence of a gun, even if carried legally, will often make police encounters more tense.

A number of current law enforcement leaders, including the current leader of the state police, Mark Keel, and the police chiefs and sheriffs in some of the state's largest population centers oppose the bill for similar reasons.

Sen. Billy Garrett, a Republican from McCormick, said the sheriffs in the small counties he represents support the bill.

“They are constitutionalists as well, in favor of the second amendment, and they don't want restrictions that other states don't have,” Garrett said.

Johnny King from Columbia testified in favor of the bill. He said he carries a concealed weapon everywhere he can legally and said this bill will help people who go through the training, the background check and submit their fingerprints for a concealed weapons permit protect themselves.

“You think the people who are committing the crimes in my area that are contributing to that Wild West environment are the law-abiding, training seeking, fingerprint sending types? It's not," King said. "Stop restricting the rest of us from defending ourselves against those types.”


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.