Don't Write Off Constitutional Carry in South Carolina Just Yet

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Just a few weeks ago I thought we'd see at least two states adopt Constitutional Carry laws this year. Louisiana seemed to be a lock once Jeff Landry was elected governor after supporting permitless carry on the campaign trail, and South Carolina lawmakers seemed to finally be on the same page after the state Senate failed to take up the issue last year. I thought there was even a slight chance that the Republican supermajority in North Carolina would approve the measure even though it proved to be too contentious in 2023. 

Well, it's now almost March and while Louisiana lawmakers are doing their part to enshrine Constitutional Carry into law, North Carolina lawmakers haven't made any progress in adopting the measure, while legislators in South Carolina are still sparring over the particulars of competing House and Senate bills. 

The situation in South Carolina is far from ideal, but at least the two sides are still talking... for the moment, anyway. 

With the two chambers seemingly deadlocked over the Senate amendments,  a conference committee with members from both bodies will try to find a workable compromise as quickly as possible. 

“I haven’t heard that there’s going to be any effort to delay the conference committee meetings,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey. “I think everybody would like to work out the issue if we can.” 

Whether the House and Senate are able to reach any sort of accord remains an open question, however. As the Charleston City Paper explains, the reason why Constitutional Carry is in a holding pattern at the moment is a dispute over the Senate's amendments, which have the backing of groups like the NRA but have drawn opposition from organizations like the National Association for Gun Rights and its state affiliate Palmetto Gun Rights. 

Those amendments include provisions that would increase penalties for carrying a gun in restricted locations, require the state to provide free monthly gun training classes in all 46 counties, and allow members of the legislature to carry in restricted locations without penalty.

“We are tired of the compromises,” PGR executive director Tommy Dimsdale said in a recent video. “We are tired of waiting, we are tired of backroom deals, and we are tired of South Carolina Republicans circling the wagons around their colleagues, weakening good bills so that weaker members get to vote on them and pretend that they are pro-gun.”

Ironically, the only way Constitutional Carry will become law this year is through a compromise in the conference committee, which will almost certainly entail a backroom deal of some sort. If that doesn't happen, Dimsdale and other gun owners will be waiting once more for the chance to enshrine Constitutional Carry into law, and there's no guarantee that the Senate will be any more amenable to what Dimsdale considers a "clean" bill next session either. 

I don't think the Senate bill is perfect, and in fact I have a big problem some of its provisions, starting with allowing members of the legislature to carry in places that are off-limits to everyone else. That's a ridiculous proposition, but its inclusion isn't worth scrapping Constitutional Carry for everyone else, as far as I'm concerned. 

The other concerns that Dimsdale has raised include the requirement that county sheriffs host monthly concealed carry courses and increasing the penalties for those without concealed carry licenses using a gun in the commission of a crime. As Dimsdale explained in a recent video, some lawmakers told PGR lobbyists that they could challenge those provisions in court, but this was the best deal they were going to get from the Senate. 

I'm all in favor of providing training to those who want it, though I too am opposed to the two-tiered system of justice that would impose greater consequences to people convicted of a crime involving a firearm if they didn't possess a valid carry license, or upping the penalty for carrying in "gun-free zones" if they've not taken advantage of the training provided by sheriffs. These amendments are problematic, to say the least, and I hope that they're removed from the House bill during the closed-door sessions of the conference committee. 

But what if the House and Senate are still at loggerheads over these proposals? Are they true poison pills that make the entire bill unacceptable? Would South Carolinians be better off with the status quo, or would the Senate's version of Constitutional Carry represent an even modest improvement over current law? 

My philosophy when it comes to 2A legislation is you get as much as you can now, and come back for more next session. Yes, that means progress is incremental, but small advances are better than no advances at all. If you let "perfect" be the enemy of "good", then all too often you end up with nothing at all. That's not embracing "compromise". It just recognizes the reality of politics. 

When was the last time you saw a gun control group declare that they were pulling support for a bill because it had been watered down in committee or on the House or Senate floor? It certainly didn't happen in New Mexico this year, where anti-gunners cheered the passage of a 7-day waiting period bill despite the fact that it was amended down from 14 business days and an exemption for concealed carry holders was added in to attract support from reluctant rural Democrats. They recognize that once that they've got something on the books, they can always try to remove those amendments they don't like, and in the meantime, they still get to impose a week-long waiting period on gun sales in the state.

South Carolinians should absolutely be pushing lawmakers to adopt as strong a bill as possible, as well as running primary candidates against the Second Amendment squishes who've been playing games with the legislation for over a year now. But suppose it comes down to a Constitutional Carry law with some problems versus no Constitutional Carry at all. In that case, South Carolina gun owners should ask themselves what their anti-gun opponents would prefer to see. Keeping a flawed Constitutional Carry bill away from Gov. Henry McMaster might be seen as a victory in some Second Amendment quarters, but it would be one that Palmetto State prohibitionists would be happy to see as well.