'Open Carry With Training' Clears Key SC Committee

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

A bill that would expand South Carolina’s carry laws to include the open carrying of firearms by those who possess a valid concealed weapons permit has now passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and is headed to the floor for a full vote. The measure, which would make South Carolina the 46th state to allow open carry in some form or fasion, has been opposed by gun control activists as well as some law enforcement officers and doctors, who argue (unconvincingly, in my opinion) that the change will have a dramatic impact on public safety in the state.

Chief Luther Reynolds was one of dozens of South Carolinians who testified Feb. 10 in opposition to the bill, joining several doctors and self-identified gun owners who said they fear the bill could lead to more violence and anxiety on the streets.

The opponents outnumbered the six supporters who testified in favor of the measure by saying they believe the training aspect will ensure guns are handled responsibly and noting that South Carolina is one of only five states that does not have any form of open carry law on the books.

Like several other opponents of the bill, Reynolds said he has owned firearms for most of his life and supports Second Amendment rights. But he said he believes the open carry bill would create “a greater potential for disagreements to turn violent.”

How so, exactly? After all, HB 3094 wouldn’t allow for the open carrying of firearms without a permit, so in that respect it’s actually a pretty small change to current state law. In fact, the biggest beneficiaries of the legislation would be concealed carry holders, who would no longer have to worry about officers like Luther Reynolds trying to arrest them if they inadvertently expose their gun when taking off a jacket or reaching for an item on the top shelf at the grocery store.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel echoed Reynolds’ concerns, telling The Post and Courier he believes it would exacerbate already dangerous situations.

“As if we don’t already have enough problems with people with guns, this just presents more of an issue,” Keel said.

What’s the specific issue? Like Reynolds, Keel apparently wasn’t ready to discuss how a law that’s already in place in 45 other states would be a disaster if it was enacted in South Carolina. Is there something special about South Carolinians that makes them untrustworthy in the eyes of officers like Reynolds and Keel, or is this just law enforcement objecting because they themselves are fine with the law as is?

Other people who testified during the hearing, which lasted about an hour and a half, included several pediatricians who treat gun injuries and said they believe the bill will lead to more of them.

“This body should be working to implement evidence-based solutions to reduce the incidence of these injuries and deaths,” said Annie Andrews, a pediatrician from Charleston. “But unfortunately, the bill that is being considered today will not protect our children and is actually a threat to public safety.”

Again, no specifics offered by Annie Andrews about why she believes allowing people who can already carry a gun concealed to do so openly would be a “threat to public safety.” No, apparently we’re just supposed to take them at their word that it would be a dangerous expansion of the right to keep and bear arms.

Ironically, some gun owners in South Carolina aren’t happy about the bill either.

The measure does not go as far as some of the most ardent gun rights supporters want. Tommy Dimsdale, the legislative director at Palmetto Gun Rights, said he believes lawmakers should instead pass a “constitutional carry” bill to let everyone carry guns openly regardless of whether they have a permit.

I’d be on board with that, but I’m guessing that the votes aren’t there to pass Constitutional Carry in South Carolina, even with the overwhelming Republican majorities in the state legislature. Politicians generally, and conservatives in particular, like to take things one step at a time. That’s certainly how the Right-to-Carry revolution has played out over the past 40 years in the United States; from no-carry to “may issue” concealed carry to “shall-issue” concealed carry to permitless or Constitutional carry, which recognizes the right of legal gun owners to lawfully carry without a state-issued license.

In Virginia, where I live, you can openly carry without a license (we’re one of 31 states that recognizes open carry without a license), and it’s posed no issues whatsoever in terms of decreasing public safety. In fact, Virginia has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country, and of the ten safest states in the Union, none of them ban the open carrying of firearms (though New Jersey and Rhode Island require a carry license to do so legally).

HB 3094 represents a modest change to South Carolina’s gun laws, and there’s no real reason to object to it unless you’re opposed to the right to bear arms more generally. I’m glad to see the bill pass out of the House Judiciary Committee, and I hope South Carolina gun owners will be in contact with their representatives to urge their support once the legislation comes up for a vote in the House in the coming weeks.


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