South Carolina took a step forward toward reforming its gun laws on Wednesday. The House of Representatives approved Bill H. 3930, legalizing the carrying of an open or concealed firearm by law-abiding gun owners without a license. South Carolina law currently requires a license to carry a concealed firearm, and does not permit open carry of a firearm outside of a vehicle.
“The bill is a very simple bill,” said Representative Mike Pitts (R-Laurens), one of the bill’s sponsors and a life member of the NRA. “It means, by definition of the Constitution, it gives you the ability to keep and bear arms without having to be permitted by the country.”
The bill also amends existing law concerning firearms on colleges and universities, which will probably drive a certain element on campus out of their minds: a gun owners could keep a firearm in a vehicle if secured and “concealed from common observation” in the vehicle’s glove box or console, or if locked on an external vehicle rack.
Carry of a firearm on campus generally would remain illegal, but the bill adds the word “knowingly” to this offense, possibly providing a safe haven for gun owners who throw their gun into their backpack and forget to take it out before heading to class. It also states that the campus ban does not apply to “any portion of the property leased to an individual or a business or to the occupants or invitees of such leased premises during reasonable ingress or egress from the leased premises.” Which sounds as though dormitories would not be gun-free zones under the bill.
South Carolina’s firearms licensing scheme would remain in place under H. 3930, to allow residents the opportunity to take advantage of reciprocity in other states that require licenses. South Carolina is the most unfriendly locale in the Old South to firearms carry by non-residents; the Palmetto State does not issue non-resident licenses, and recognizes licenses issued by fewer than half of the other states.
All other Southern states either recognize all other state firearms licenses, or automatically recognize licenses issued by states that recognize their own. This bill would also alleviate that burden.
Rep. Justin Bamberg (D-Bamberg), who expressed concern in an interview with Maya Prabhu of the Post and Courier that the law might not be enforced fairly.
If I’m an African-American male on the Battery in downtown Charleston and I’m open-carrying at 1 or 2 in the morning, which I’ll legally be able to do, is my very being, the very breath in my body going to give law enforcement probable cause to stop me?
Rep. Bamberg might have a legitimate concern about South Carolina law enforcement’s behavior toward ethnic minorities, but if he does, a law legalizing open carrying of firearms would remove probable cause for at least one vector of this sort of official harassment. Whether he intended it or not, Rep. Bamberg just gave a most eloquent endorsement for H. 3930.
Republican Mike Ryhal (R-Carolina Forest) was less enthusiastic about the bill.
“As I walk around and talk about it I keep hearing, ‘I don’t like this piece of it, but I’m going to vote for it,'” Ryhal said. “‘I wish this wasn’t in there, but I’m going to vote for it. Maybe when it goes across to the Senate, they’ll take care of this and we won’t have to deal with it.’ Really, folks? Is that why you were sent here?”
This isn’t the first time South Carolina has attempted to reform its restrictive gun laws; an effort made in 2015 (also backed by Rep. Pitts) withered on the vine. If Rep. Ryhal’s attitudes are shared, perhaps it’s easy to understand why.
The bill now awaits action by the Senate.