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South Carolina News

SC Considers Joining Much Of U.S. In Open Gun Carry

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Some South Carolina Republican lawmakers are trying to get the decidedly conservative state to join 44 others that allow people to carry guns without concealing them.

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

A House panel voted 3-1 along party lines to advance a bill Wednesday that would allow people who already have concealed-weapons permits to carry their guns without hiding them under a coat or other clothing.

The proposal has a long way to go before becoming law. But like another bill proposed each session that would ban almost all abortions, the open-carry bill got a boost when Republicans gained five seats in the General Assembly in the 2020 elections.

Before voting Wednesday, the subcommittee listened to the public speak for about two hours, both in person and virtually. Some speakers said the proposal would make them feel safer protecting their family, while doctors said they feared more gun violence and domestic killings in a state that is often among the worst in the country.

Some gun owners said the concealed-weapons law is just fine as it is. But Charleston's police chief asked lawmakers to focus instead on laws ensuring that violent criminals serve more time in prison.

Chief Luther Reynolds, testifying by video, told lawmakers open carry is a bad idea given the recent increase in protests over racial injustice, which often involve angry people pitted against each other in close quarters.

“Adding the open carry of firearms raises tension," Reynolds said. "It makes it even harder for law enforcement officers to determine who has and who has not been committing a crime.”

Both local and state law enforcement officials have been a significant force in preventing the bill from passing in previous years.

About a half-dozen of the 28 people who testified Wednesday were in favor of the bill.

Mark Roote said he carried his gun openly in Pennsylvania, which doesn't require a permit, before moving to South Carolina. He said as a disabled veteran, a gun helps him defend himself and his family even if he can no longer physically fight.

“Having a pistol concealed on my hip requires extra motion,” Roote said.

A background check and training is needed to get a concealed-weapon permit, but no additional training is required after the license is issued.

At least one speaker Wednesday said the proposal doesn't go far enough. Tommy Dimsdale, who identified himself as belonging to a group of tens of thousands of gun owners in the state called Palmetto Gun Rights, said South Carolina needs to join about 16 other states that allow legal gun owners to carry their weapons any way they wish, without a permit.

“We’re disappointed that lawmakers think this bill adequately addresses the concern of gun owners," Dimsdale said.

None of the lawmakers spoke about the bill before voting Wednesday. In the past, some African American legislators have suggested the measure might pose a danger to Black gun owners, who they said could be mistaken for criminals by police or other armed civilians.

“My reality is I am Black, and because of the color of my skin, I am feared by some of those same gun owners who have no idea I could be a good guy with a gun,” speaker Butch Kennedy said. “Open carry to me means open season on the hundreds of thousands of people who look like me.”

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