Sen. Lee Bright will host a public hearing at 7 p.m. Today in Greenville on a bill to eliminate concealed carry weapon permits and turn South Carolina into an “open carry” state.
Bright, R-Roebuck, is traveling around the state conducting public hearings for Senate Bill 115. The bill would eliminate concealed carry permit requirements and allow all South Carolina residents who can legally own a weapon to carry it with them in most public places. The bill retains provisions for business owners to prohibit weapons on their premises so long as the restriction is publicly posted.
“I feel like that’s an infringement on our second amendment right to require a permit for us to carry a weapon,” Bright said.
The bill is sponsored by Bright; Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson; Sen. Danny Verdin, R-Laurens; Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkley; and Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg. The bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee and sent to subcommittee. Bright is chairman of the judiciary subcommittee.
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, suggested a public hearing on the open carry bill, Bright said. Most of the time public hearings are held in Columbia, but Bright said he decided to have travelling public hearings to ensure the voices of all South Carolinians who want to speak to the issue are heard.
“It’s not really fair to have only the opinion of those people who can drive to Columbia,” he said.
There have been two public hearings in Rock Hill and Charleston with hundreds of people in attendance. At both meetings, Bright said the crowd was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. There were about 20 speakers at each event, Bright said, and only two spoke in opposition.
At a state level, the bill has met with opposition from the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. Executive Director Jeff Moore said the background checks and safety courses mandated to receive a concealed weapon permit help promote the safe use of handguns.
“We believe the background and safety components of the CWP are important and to eliminate them serves no constructive purpose,” Moore said.
The bill also states open carry would be permitted except with the intent to commit a crime, but Moore questioned how officers would know if a person intended to commit a crime. Currently, when officers make an arrest for illegal carry of a weapon, it often leads them to connect the suspect to other crimes, Moore said.
Bright said gun safety is largely common sense and noted people were carrying weapons long before laws mandating concealed carry permits were created. He also noted in other open carry states, including North Carolina, gun violence did not increase when concealed weapon permits were eliminated.
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright, who made national headlines in 2011 when he encouraged women to arm themselves after an attempted rape at a local park, said he supports open carry legislation, but has some concerns about eliminating background checks.
“I like the open carry a lot, but I don’t think we should get away from doing background checks on people for violent crimes and mental illness and I think it’s the state’s right to do that and not the federal government’s,” he said. “I do not want to get into everyone’s business, but I do want to make sure people carrying weapons have a legal right to do so. … My officers have a hard enough job as it is.”
The public hearing on Senate Bill 115 will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in Greenville County Council Chambers at 301 University Ridge. Bright said he encouraged everyone to take advantage of the forum and make their opinion known. The fourth and final hearing is scheduled for March 18 in Myrtle Beach. Bright said he plans to schedule a vote on the bill by the subcommittee for March 20.
**Editor’s Note: I will personally be attending this hearing. I’m not sure if I will speak or not, but rest assured I will fill all my readers in on what happens tonight.
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