SC senators reject guns at Statehouse in open carry debate


COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – South Carolina senators debating a bill to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns in the open rejected a proposal Thursday to allow those people to carry their weapons in the Statehouse.

The rejected amendment was part of hours on debate on dozens of proposals to alter the House-passed bill allowing so-called open carry of guns for people who undergo training and background checks to carry guns hidden under a jacket or other clothing.

The Senate started debating the bill on Tuesday. The debate continued well past 5 p.m. Thursday with several more amendments left to go. Senate leaders said Wednesday they hoped to get the issue to a vote Thursday. There are only three more days left in the General Assembly’s 2021 session.

Debate began Thursday with Sen. Marlon Kimpson reminding senators he has been pushing his own gun bill for five years without success.

The Democrat from Charleston wants to close a loophole that allowed the shooter in the Charleston church massacre in his district in 2015 to get his gun despite a pending drug charge that might have scuttled the sale.

The person doing the background check called the wrong police agency looking for details on the charge and because they didn’t respond in three days, the gun was sold.

Kimpson’s proposals were all ruled not relevant to the bill and tossed out.

Kimpson said he wouldn’t stop fighting to close the co-called “Charleston Loophole”’ and to fight against the expansion of who can carry guns and where and how they can be carried.

“Carrying firearms visibly in public is a dangerous, dangerous public policy that makes it more likely that disagreements will turn violent,” Kimpson said.

Another amendment that failed on a 30-14 vote would have allowed people with a permit to take a gun into the Statehouse.

“I know we get license plates and parking places and honorables. We should be subjected to the same risk we ask our constituents to be subjected to,” said Rep. Dick Harpootlian, a Democrat from Columbia.

An amendment sponsored by Republican Rep. Josh Kimbrell of Spartanburg would have allowed guns to be carried in any public building at the state or county level. That proposal was set aside to be debated further at a later time.

Gun rights groups have made open carry a priority for years and put extra pressure on senators after Republicans won an extra three seats in the 2020 elections.

Opponents of the open carry bill include a number of current law enforcement leaders, including State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, and the police chiefs and sheriffs in some of the state’s largest population centers.

South Carolina is one of only five states without some type of open carry law, joining atypical partners such as California, Florida, Illinois and New York.

The House earlier this year passed both the open carry bill and a separate bill allowing anyone who can legally own a gun to carry it in public with no permit. Senators rejected changing the bill to that language Wednesday.

After about ten hours of debate over three days, Sen. Shane Martin said Thursday he worried tired senators might make mistakes if they continued to vote on potential changes to what he said is a good concealed weapons law.

“I worry right now especially at this late hour were going to mess around or adopt an amendment that we are going to regret,” said Martin, a Republican from Spartanburg who supports getting rid of permits altogether. ___

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