Back in February, the South Carolina House easily approved a constitutional carry bill by a vote of 90-30, sending the legislation over to the state Senate, where it faced a more uncertain future. In fact, there was some concern about whether or not the Republican-controlled chamber would even take up the bill at all, but it looks like the measure is now starting to see some movement.
Last week a Senate Judiciary subcommittee heard testimony on SB 109, a slightly different version of the legislation already approved by the House, and ended up amending the bill to bring it in line with HB 3594 before sending it to the full Judiciary Committee for a vote.
While the Republican majority in the Senate should provide the numbers necessary to get the bill to Gov. Henry McMaster, the bill was met with opposition by a number of politically appointed police chiefs; most of them heading up departments in Democrat-controlled cities.
Last week, the police chiefs of Myrtle Beach, Conway, Columbia and Anderson testified before a Senate subcommittee, sharing their input.
We asked Greer Police Chief Matt Hamby about that.
“We totally believe in and support the Second Amendment and we want to make sure that as laws are made that we follow the legislation that’s passed and we do our job to enforce the laws,” he said.
Hamby said one concern among some police chiefs around the state is that there is no requirement for training, including how to properly use guns and make decisions on when you can or cannot lawfully shoot.
“Those are the things that we’re just trying to make sure that our lawmakers are aware of, what our concerns are,” he said. “But again, we are absolutely in support of Second Amendment rights, and we want to make sure that just all of the issues are considered as lawmakers are making their decisions.”
Firearms training is invaluable, and I encourage every gun owner to take as many classes as they want in addition to visiting a range on a regular basis. But a training mandate can be a substantial burden, particularly for those who live in rural areas without a nearby range or instructor as well as those who might need to carry a firearm for self-defense because of the threat of imminent harm. There are steps that the state could take to alleviate the concerns of chiefs like Hamby, including providing funding for county sheriffs or local police departments to put on voluntary courses to instruct gun owners about South Carolina’s use of force laws and any other issue departments want to address. I’m sure those classes would be well attended, because the vast majority of folks who choose to carry a gun in self-defense want to be comfortable and confident in doing so.
But with half the country already operating under constitutional or permitless carry laws (Florida’s law won’t officially take effect until July 1), these skittish chiefs also have plenty of evidence to examine from other states, and none of them seem to have experienced the type of “Wild West” scenarios some law enforcement envision.
“As law enforcement, we train, and we train, and we train some more, and we still make mistakes. With this legislation, we are asking the public no longer to be required to train and expect the same results,” Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock said.
Chiefs said they are also concerned because this bill does not address mental health, and they fear it will have unintended consequences.
“This puts our law enforcement officers in a position to fail,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.
The South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association did not share those concerns about the lack of training requirement in its testimony.
But its executive director, Jarrod Bruder, said sheriffs would oppose the bill without tougher penalties added in for people who illegally possess guns.
“The sheriffs of South Carolina have very serious concerns about straight constitutional carry. If there is some mechanism that has felon in possession language in there, we could come to a neutral position,” Bruder said.
It’s already a crime in South Carolina for someone convicted of a violent felony offense to possess a firearm or ammunition, while federal law forbids all those convicted of a felony offense from possessing a firearm. I’m not sure what more Bruder wants, but given that courts around the country have been casting a skeptical eye at some of the existing prohibitions on gun ownership, lawmakers are going to have to tread carefully if they want to broaden the state’s felon-in-possession statute to include other offenses without infringing on we the people’s right to keep and bear arms.
There’s no word on when the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up SB 109, but the fact that the bill is getting a hearing and a vote in a subcommittee is a very good sign. With Florida lawmakers already adopting permitless carry and Nebraska and Louisiana poised to do the same before the end of their legislative sessions, South Carolina’s Republican majority should be feeling some heat to follow suit, and I know the state’s 2A activists will be keeping up the pressure until constitutional carry clears the last legislative hurdle and is signed into law.