Governor's OK Means S Carolina Now Allows Open Carry Of Guns

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Gov. Henry McMaster said Monday he signed into law a bill allowing people with concealed weapons permits from the state to carry their guns in the open.

McMaster posted on Twitter that he was keeping his promise to sign any bill that protects or expands gun rights.

The proposal allows so-called open carry of guns for people who undergo training and background checks so they can keep guns hidden under a jacket or other clothing or in their vehicle anywhere there isn't a sign prohibiting it.

The law takes effect in 90 days. Thus, in mid-August, South Carolina will no longer be with California, Florida, Illinois and New York to prohibit any type of open carry.

The law eliminates a $50 permit fee to get a concealed weapons permit and lowers the number of bullets that someone must fire at a target in an accuracy test to get a permit from 50 to 25 shots. Requirements remain that a permit holder be 21 or over, take eight hours of training and pass a background check that includes fingerprinting.

The state had about 425,000 people with an active permit at the end of 2020, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

The proposal also made South Carolina a "Second Amendment Sanctuary," which orders states and local governments to refuse to enforce any federal law or executive order that limits gun rights.

Similar resolutions have been adopted by Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois and Florida as well as about 1,200 other local governments around the U.S., according to Shawn Fields, an assistant professor of law at Campbell University who tracks them. The idea is facing its first court challenge in Columbia County, Oregon.

The open carry gun law was a bookend set of proposals sought for years by conservatives in South Carolina. The addition of five Republicans to the General Assembly in the 2020 elections finally brought about the political strength for the measure to pass.

Lawmakers approved a law banning nearly all abortions at the start of the session, but it was immediately put on pause by a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a challenge of a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Mississippi. It is less restrictive than the South Carolina law, but supporters hope the justices clear the way for states to pass any restrictions they want.

Nearly 50 bills were sent to the governor's desk Thursday. So far, McMaster has signed the open carry proposal and a law that forces death row inmates facing execution to choose to die by firing squad or the electric chair when lethal injection isn't available. The state's last batch of lethal injection drugs expired in 2013.

Both bills were signed without a formal, public ceremony.

Opponents of the open carry proposal included a number of current law enforcement leaders. Among them were State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel as well as police chiefs and sheriffs in some of the state's largest population centers.

Some conservatives wanted the state to go even further and allow anyone legally allowed to own a gun to carry one without training or a permit. That proposal passed the House, but not the Senate.

While Republicans cheered another victory, Democrats asked as the General Assembly's regular session ended last week why they didn't tackle issues like Medicaid expansion or improving education, especially in poorer areas of the South Carolina.

"I expected us to do more. I expected us to be better than where we are. I didn't expect us to be having the kind of discussions that have taken up our time so far," said Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, a Democrat from North Charleston.