South Carolina Police Chief Claims New Open Carry Law Puts Cops At Risk

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

South Carolina is one of the few states in the country that bans the open carrying of firearms entirely, but that will change in a few days. Earlier this year lawmakers approved a rather modest change to state law that will allow those who possess a valid concealed carry license to carry either openly or concealed. Even with the change, South Carolina law is going to be more restrictive than more than half the states in the U.S., which allow open carry without any license at all, but gun control advocates and even some law enforcement officers are warning that the new law is going to somehow lead to more violent crime.

Monica Jefferson, the Mother of Malcolm Jefferson who was a victim of gun violence in 2013, says her son was murdered only a few minutes into his 18th birthday. “‘I’m sorry to tell you, but your son has gone to be with Jesus.’ These are words that no mother should ever have to hear,” says Jefferson.

She says she is worried about the future of the Lowcountry as open carry becomes a reality.

Charleston Police Department Chief Luther Reynolds says everyone that took part in the gun violence forum on Wednesday opposed the open carry bill becoming law. Now, he says we as a community must deal with the facts.

Chief Reynolds says, “last year in 2020, was the worst year in the state of South Carolina for violent crime. The most shootings, the most deaths by far, and the year 2021 is going to be much worse.”

Both the public and those sitting on the panel for the forum expressed concern about the disproportionate impact of gun violence on black communities. Some black community members said that while they are Concealed Weapon Permit (CWP) holders, they will not open carry out of fear for what will happen to them as African Americans carrying a firearm.

North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess, reminded the public of the lives lost in just the past three years to those without a CWP. He says the open carry law will put law enforcement lives at risk.

I’ve been hearing these claims for months, but I’ve yet to see any opponent of South Carolina’s new “open carry with training” law explain exactly why they believe that the new law will lead to more violent crime or threaten the safety of police officers. If Chief Burgess was right that open carrying led to more violence or put cops at risk, you’d think he’d be able to point to some sort of evidence, but he can’t because it’s simply not true. In fact, Virginia, where I live, has had permitless open carry laws on the books for decades, and a violent crime rate that’s historically much lower than South Carolina’s. That wouldn’t be the case if the chief was really on to something with his scaremongering over the new law.

The fact is that even when the new law takes effect, the vast majority of gun owners are going to continue to carry concealed. Even if every single concealed carry licensee decided to start openly carrying their firearms, however, it wouldn’t lead to an increase in violent crime.

The new law doesn’t change who can legally carry. It merely expands how those who can lawfully carry can do so. Since most violent crime in South Carolina is committed by individuals who don’t possess a concealed carry license (and may not be legally eligible to own a firearm at all), I highly doubt that the change will result in more violent crime (or a huge reduction in crime either, for that matter). The biggest change, as far as law enforcement goes, is that licensees will no longer face criminal charges for inadvertently displaying their firearm if their coat flaps open or their shirt hangs up on the butt of their pistol.

The South Carolina police chiefs are right to be worried about violent crime in their communities, but they’re completely off-base in asserting that a minor change to the state’s carry laws is going to turn the state into the Wild West. With murders at an all-time high in the state, chiefs like Burgess and Reynolds should be focused on those actually responsible for the acts of violence instead of trying to foster unfounded fears about legal gun owners and lawful gun carriers.