Will Haley back Constitutional Carry in South Carolina?

Will Haley back Constitutional Carry in South Carolina?
AP Photo/Meg Kinnard

There’s been a lot of attention paid to the debate over permitless carry legislation in Florida, and for good reason. Not only is Gov. Ron DeSantis seen as a front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but Florida is one of the most population-rich states in the country and home to more than 2-million licensed concealed carry holders. The effort to make the Sunshine State the 26th in the nation to adopt a permitless carry law is big news for a reason, but it’s also not the only state where permitless carry is on the move.

But Florida isn’t the only state where permitless carry is being considered. South Carolina, where lawmakers last year approved a measure allowing for the open carrying of firearms without a license, is now considering a bill allowing the same for concealed carry, and it’s a fair question to know where former South Carolina governor and newly-announced 2024 presidential contender Nikki Haley stands on the issue.

Given the glacial pace of progress in the state when it comes to the right to keep and bear arms, it’s fairly shocking that a permitless carry bill was even introduced this session, but so far the bill seems to meeting with little resistance, except from the usual suspects in the statehouse.

The South Carolina Constitutional Carry/Second Amendment Preservation Act — a bill that would loosen gun laws across the state by eliminating the need for a license to carry a handgun concealed or openly — advanced from the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday in a 16-7 vote along party lines.

The move comes on the heels of a mass shooting this week at Michigan State University, where a gunman killed three people and critically wounded five others before eventually turning the gun on himself.

“The bill does not change who can carry a concealable weapon. … If a person can’t carry a weapon now, they won’t be able to carry a weapon under this bill,” said state Rep. Jason Elliott, R-Greenville. The bill “strikes a balance to strengthen our law on who is unlawfully carrying a weapon.”

But Democrats say the bill doesn’t make sense.

“Just in 2023, in the U.S., there have been 67 mass shootings,” said state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland. Tuesday marked “five years since the Parkland, Fla., shooting, where 17 students and teachers were killed, and we want to be able to put more people out there with guns?

“It makes no sense, people. We have a responsibility to people in South Carolina to help keep them safe,” said Bernstein, adding that gun rights should be centered around responsibility and safety.

And if the people of South Carolina wanted what the Democrats are selling, they would have voted for them last November. Instead, incumbent Republican Henry McMaster won re-election by a whopping 18-points, U.S. Senator Tim Scott cruised to another six-year term by an even more lopsided margin of 62-37, the GOP captured five of the state’s six congressional seats, and Republicans in the state House of Representatives picked up eight additional seats, giving them an 88-37 majority.

South Carolinians squarely rejected the Democrats’ anti-gun ideology in the midterm elections, but that doesn’t mean that permitless carry is guaranteed to get to Gov. McMaster’s desk. The open carry bill approved last year was more of a compromise measure than anything else, and a majority of the state Senate may still be hostile to expanding the current law to allow legal gun owners to carry concealed without a state-issued permit.

Republicans hold 30 of the state Senate’s 46 seats, so they can afford to lose a few squishy senators if H3594 crosses over from the House in the coming weeks. Before that happens, though, the full House will have to give the green light. Democrats don’t have the numbers to defeat the bill, but they’re doing everything they can to portray the measure as a dangerous undoing of “common sense” laws.

Although law enforcement has historically opposed the measure, they were noticeably silent — and absent — Tuesday, leaving some lawmakers scratching their heads.

“It’s disappointing law enforcement has chosen not to speak against this bill,” said state Rep. Seth Rose, D-Richland. “And then to learn that there are other fractions of the bill that law enforcement has given input on feels disingenuous.”

While State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel spoke out against constitutional carry when the issue was last debated at the State House, it is unclear whether he currently maintains opposition to the bill.

“One day you want to save lives by stopping abortions. Another day you want to kill people with a firing squad, and now today we’re dealing with the wild wild west,” said Democratic state Rep. John King of York, taking a jab at Republicans and calling them the “bipolar party.”

But Republicans maintained that because the issue is so contentious, it should be debated before the full House.

“I stand for the Constitution, and the Second Amendment says we have the right to bear arms,” said state Rep. Thomas Brittain, R-Horry. “As my constituents are worried about this bill, I move for passage to make sure that those other arguments can be presented to the full body (of the House).”

That should soon take place, and hopefully H3594 is easily approved when a vote is called. But will Nikki Haley lend her support to the measure? Backing Constitutional Carry in South Carolina would be an easy way to demonstrate her commitment to the Second Amendment, and would have the added bonus of putting more pressure on the state Senate to sign off on the bill and send it to the governor for his signature.

From both a civil liberties and pragmatic perspective that seems like a no-brainer to me. DeSantis is likely to sign a permitless carry bill into law in the next few months, and while Haley can’t actually put pen to paper, she has an opportunity to aid in the cause. In fact, failure to do so would be a huge mistake on her part. DeSantis is already getting dinged for his “gun-free” campaign events, and if Haley (and Sen. Tim Scott too, presuming he throws his hat into the ring) doesn’t lift a finger to help gun owners in her home state bear arms without a government-issued permission slip it’s going to be awfully hard to win their votes.