Sun. Jun 20th, 2021

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law Monday legislation that will allow a concealed weapons permit holder to carry their firearm openly while in public, legislation hailed by supporters of the Second Amendment and criticized by doctors and top voices in law enforcement.

“Today, I signed the Open Carry with Training Act into law!” McMaster tweeted. “I will proudly support any legislation that protects or enhances a South Carolinian’s ability to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights, and that’s exactly what this bill does.”

South Carolina now joins 45 other states that have some type of open carry law already in place.

But permitted gun owners can’t openly carry their weapons in the state’s 46 counties just yet.

Despite the governor’s signature, the law will not take effect until 90 days from May 17 — or Aug. 16 — a key provision added by state senators to give the State Law Enforcement Division and police agencies more time to educate police and the public on the new law.

That measure was important to SLED Chief Mark Keel — a critic of H. 3094 — who told The State on Friday his agency has already started outreach to agencies and to the state Criminal Justice Academy to educate instructors and incorporate the new law into their training programs.

The governor’s signature came less than a week after the Legislature sent the bill to his desk, a process sped up after the Senate bypassed a legislative step to get a vote on the bill faster. McMaster did not hold a public bill signing, though he could hold a ceremonial signing within the month.

The new law allows only South Carolinians with training and concealed weapons permits to carry their firearms openly, after the Legislature rejected multiple attempts to eliminate the permit requirement entirely.

Firearms are still prohibited on State House grounds and in businesses and buildings where signage states firearms worn concealed or openly are not allowed. Guns also are prohibited on school grounds when students are in school or involved in extracurricular activities on the grounds. However, the law allows concealed or open carrying on school grounds when a church leases areas within the school for a church service or official church activity and students are not present.

The law also gives cities and counties the ability to temporarily restrict open carrying during permitted events that could include public protests, rallies, parades, festivals, fairs and other organized events. Signs must be posted around the event so the public knows.

The State Law Enforcement Division has issued more than 582,000 concealed weapons permits in the state. And now under the new law, South Carolinians will no longer have to pay the $50 permit fee.

The Legislature stripped that fee out, a loss to SLED of about $5.5 million a year that helps the state agency pay for FBI searches and personnel, among other assistance. However, Keel told The State he has assurance the Legislature will add back in that money when it returns this year to rehash the budget.

Lawmakers also narrowed the court’s window to five days to ensure magistrate clerks send pertinent records of legal actions that would bar someone from owning a gun to SLED.

Proponents of the new law defended the expansion throughout the debate, saying the open carrying of handguns would not turn South Carolina into some “wild West.” Supporters also saw the expansion as one step closer to further eliminating the state’s concealed weapons permit requirement.

South Carolina already recognizes out-of-state concealed weapons permit holders in more than a dozen states, and it allows gun owners with concealed weapons permits to carry inside restaurants and bars. The law does not allow a gun owner to drink and carry.

“I won’t give up advocating for it. I was so close,” state Sen. Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, told reporters after he tried and failed to remove the permit requirement during the Senate’s debate this month. “The Senate’s not ready for it yet.”

But in the same chamber that lost a senator to gun violence in 2015, critics of the legislation argued the bill’s sponsors were answering to a small contingent of voices, specifically primary voters.

“A lot of people who care about South Carolina, they’re not asking for this,” state Sen. Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, said this month.

“I don’t understand the fantasy.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) has covered the S.C. State House and politics for The State since 2017. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville in 2013. She previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News. She has won reporting awards in South Carolina.
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