COLUMBIA — The South Carolina House on Wednesday gave key approval to a so-called constitutional carry bill that would let residents carry guns openly without a permit and with no mandatory training.
Lawmakers voted 69-47 in favor of the bill, weeks after approving a measure that would allow people with concealed-weapons permits to openly carry firearms.
The “constitutional carry” measure would go further by not requiring any of the weapons training mandated in the open-carry bill and by not requiring any permits. Republicans also amended Wednesday’s bill to bar the state from enforcing federal gun control regulations.
Guns would still be banned in places such as churches, courthouses and polling places.
“This bill was coming. This was always a part of the plan,” said Republican Rep. Micah Caskey, one of the measure's sponsors.
South Carolina is currently one of just five states without open carry, joining atypical partners California, Florida, Illinois and New York.
Some Black Democrats said they were in support of the Second Amendment and were gun owners themselves. But they added that they were worried the bill could lead to racial profiling of some gun owners and put law enforcement officers at higher risk of danger.
“Unfortunately, we are in a place where the powerful are making decisions to harm the powerless,” said Rep. Wendy Brawley, a Democrat from Richland County.
Republicans voted to table a handful of amendments, from one that would get rid of the state’s “stand your ground” law, which allows residents to defend themselves with deadly force if they feel they are at risk of great bodily harm, to a proposal that would legalize duels.
“I suggest we ... go out in the middle of Assembly Street and just shoot it out,” said Democratic Rep. Cezar McKnight.
Rep. John King, a Democrat from York County, introduced an amendment that would let people carry guns on all public property — including on the Statehouse grounds, where firearms are currently banned.
Caskey called the suggestion a “poison pill” that would violate federal gun-free school zone restrictions; Bamberg countered that lawmakers had just passed an amendment saying the state doesn't need to follow federal regulations. Lawmakers tabled that amendment, too.
One Republican, Rep. Bart Blackwell, spoke against the bill, citing its lack of training requirements: "The current gun laws we have in the state are the best in the nation, and they need to stay that way.”
State law enforcement officials have warned against expanding the state's gun laws, saying they could lead to more gun violence and domestic killings in a state that is often ranked among the worst in the country for such violence. They said fights could escalate to shootings more quickly under open carry and that such a law would make it hard for police to sort out who is committing a crime.
Prior attempts to expand gun laws in the state have died repeatedly, though this year’s proposals picked up steam after Republicans gained five seats in the General Assembly in the 2020 elections.
Both the open-carry and “constitutional carry" proposals have yet to be considered by the Senate.