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Open carry bill passes SC House; debate on broader gun rights bill expected in April

Updated: Mar. 17, 2021 at 8:44 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A bill that would change South Carolina’s gun laws is one step closer to heading to the state Senate after passing its second vote Wednesday afternoon.

The Open Carry with Training Act would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry a handgun out in the open.

The vote came after a six-hour debate.

PREVIOUS STORY Ι State lawmakers expected to begin debates on open-carry law

But not everyone is going home 100% satisfied.

State Republicans say the bill is a good step toward protecting the Second Amendment. But they want to pass more gun legislation in the coming weeks.

State Democrats, however, argue the bill is dangerous.

“This is a perfect storm,” Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, said.

He says the bill ignores racial and political tensions in the state.

“If you add fear, fear brings anxiety,” he said. “You can assure that you’re going to have negative results.

Gilliard says a Black person won’t be able to open carry as freely as white people because of racial profiling. Fellow Democrats agreed with the point.

Freshman Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D-Richland, said as a 6-foot, 7-inch tall, 285-pound Black man, having a gun on his side would make him a target.

“Think about me and my family. I’m tired of going home and telling them to have to talk to my children about what they can and can’t do as a black person,” he said. “I am scared for my children’s lives.”

Republicans say the bill would not put anyone in any additional danger.

“You can walk down the road with an AR-15 on your back and that’s real in South Carolina, but we don’t see thousands of people walking around with rifles on their back,” Rep. Chris Wooten, R-Lexington, said. “We won’t see thousands of people walking around with pistols on their side.”

The bill simply allows someone who carries a handgun already to move their jacket and show their weapon.

“There are a lot of people in our community who are scared and we don’t fund and protect our law enforcement as well as we should, so we should have the right to protect ourselves,” Wooten said.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said the bill gives him a lot of concern. He said he worries the bill would make police officers less safe.

Many supporters of the bill say it doesn’t go far enough. But, they say, being allowed to open-carry a handgun with a permit is a start.

“We pursued that track mainly because that’s what the feedback we got from most of the polling we did,” Rep. Bobby Cox, R-Greenville said. “But then we realized we need to do that right thing and go all the way.”

Cox says a bill that would allow gun owners to carry all weapons openly without a permit will be debated on the House floor by mid-April.

If both the House and Senate pass the bill and Gov. Henry McMaster signs it into law, a business would still be allowed to post signs prohibiting open carry in their business, similar to how some businesses restrict concealed weapons.

The bill allows people to carry in a church if the church doubles as a school.

The bill must pass one more procedural vote in the House. That vote could happen Thursday, but the threat of severe weather could delay it.

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