COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Lawmakers in the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee are likely to consider allowing some gun owners to open-carry their weapons.
The Open Carry Training Act would allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to carry a handgun out in the open.
Reaction to the proposed law is mixed.
“I understand good faith opposition to guns, I do, I get it, but the reality is this law is very narrowly tailored to address one specific concern and that is people who have CWPs if they are going to be criminalized for having that gun exposed,” Rep. Micah Caskey, R-Lexington, said.
Lowcountry pediatrician Dr. Anne Andrews cited 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating firearms are the leading cause of death for children in South Carolina between the ages of 1 and 19, surpassing motor vehicle accidents.
“Guns that are going to be open carried are most likely going to be loaded, so that would certainly increases the chances the child or a teenager could access a loaded firearm so that would increase risk to those unintentional shootings we often see in young children,” she said.
“One way to look at this bill is, what it does is say, if you’ve got a valid concealed weapon permit you won’t be penalized for this gun being exposed,” Caskey said. “So, if you got your coat caught behind your concealed weapon right now that would be a violation of state law. We are trying to decimalize that.”
Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, is concerned this bill would hurt minorities.
“For people who are not familiar with me, I’m just another minority walking the streets,” he said. “I do have concerns if I would be able to open carry the same as my white counterparts.”
Bamberg defines himself as a pro-Second Amendment gun owner. But he is concerned about sheriffs who have spoken out against the idea.
“Minorities all across South Carolina and the country are deemed suspicious when they are just doing everyday activities from running to even sitting in their house eating ice cream like Botham Jean,” Bamberg said.
Jean was a St. Lucia native who was shot and killed in his Dallas apartment by a Dallas Police officer who said she mistook him for a burglar in her home. Authorities say she entered Jean’s apartment by mistake instead of her own.
“Can our state handle that if we now arm everyone, even minorities?” Bamberg said. “I want to be able carry safely, I want people like me to carry safely, but I want to see changes in the bill to help make that happen.”
Bamberg said he does not think every citizen is comfortable with seeing guns openly carried being around them.
“And we have to consider that,” he said. “It is not our job to take the will of the few and put it on the many.”
Caskey said, when asked about the timing of debating a change to gun laws during a pandemic, said lawmakers can “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
“There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen trying to figure out how to unscrew up this pandemic response in state government. The state legislature I think has done its job in providing the resources for that to happen. All the problems we have can’t be solved necessarily with more people weighing in on them with their opinions,” Caskey said. “I think there is a great argument that you don’t need any kind of permit, any kind of training to carry a gun, however, we got a responsibility in the legislature to come up with a compromise that addresses all the concerns that all the members that all the citizens in our state have and I think this bill does that.”
Bamberg said he is not happy about the timing, however.
“There are important issues right now that we could be effecting people right now that we could be handling, but I think we are marching to the beat of a push back agenda I believe is what it’s called,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the proper way to legislate.”
Bamberg said listed mental health and adding PSTD to worker’s compensation coverage for law enforcement officers as examples of issues he would like to see house members working on.
The Palmetto State is one of only five states without legislation allowing the open carrying of handguns.
South Carolina and New York, by default, allow the open carry of long guns unless businesses have rules preventing that. California, Illinois and Florida, and the District of Columbia, do not permit open carry of any firearms.