COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook is breaking his silence against a proposal to allow South Carolinians to carry firearms openly without a permit or training.
Holbrook wants lawmakers to see his perspective on the bill now in the Senate that would allow for open or Constitutional Carry.
The chief says the plan would complicate his officers' jobs, voicing his concerns after an officer-involved shooting at Walmart on Bush River Road weeks ago.
"Considering what we just experienced about three weeks ago with an officer-involved shooting, and just what I consider to be escalating violence and the number of weapons that we're finding. I didn't see how I could really just stand on the sidelines and not say something," Chief Holbrook says.
The scene there unfolded after callers reported a suspicious man with a gun.
It was a situation Chief Holbrook says may have ended differently and for the worse, had more patrons been armed with guns, carrying openly and without training, as the bill would allow if passed.
Someone snapped a photo of a man with a gun in the parking lot, which led Holbrook to wonder what kind of environments his officers would have to work in if carrying guns was even more common than it is now.
Would they even be able to identify a suspect from an innocent bystander?
"I found it interesting that someone would think to pull their cell phone out and literally take a picture of a fleeing armed person within feet of that person. I thought 'well, what if he had a gun instead of a cell phone?'" Holbrook says. "We are very hyper-focused and vigilant, but you know I don't know that you could even measure kind of the more hyper-vigilant that police would be."
When WIS polled people on the street, opinions were split on whether people thought openly carrying firearms would make communities safer. Some of those who offered to weigh-in on the bill took the same position as Chief Holbrook, and fear communities would not be safe without training for carry and with more firearms openly displayed.
"They don't know if you're the good guy or the bad guy," Columbia resident Jay Price says.
"You have to understand the shoot-don't shoot principle," Columbia visitor Nathaniel Johnson says, backing training requirements for gun carriers.
Others believe training shouldn't be required, supporting the bill.
"The ones who want weapons, they can get them anywhere, on the streets or off the black market or whatever. So, I'm definitely not for mandating that you get training a weapon," Columbia visitor Melton Hagood says.
Chief Holbrook is concerned for his officers.
"How differently that could have changed the situation, or changed the optics for the officers," Holbrook reflected on the Walmart shooting incident. "You know, they would have not been able to distinguish easily between friend or foe. It just I think it would have been disastrous."
The bill for open carry is in the Senate now and will be taken up when lawmakers return in January.