By Al Dozier
The gunfight at the Statehouse is about done.
On February 1 The S.C. Senate passed a controversial bill that would allow any adult without a felony background to carry a concealed handgun in public without a permit.
Often referred to as the “constitutional carry” bill, the legislation would make obtaining a concealed weapons permit and the training and background checks that come with it optional, while also lowering the age to carry a handgun in public from 21 to 18.
Under the existing state law enacted in 2021, people who want to openly carry handguns in South Carolina have to complete training and obtain a concealed weapons permit.
Rep. Nathan Ballentine, who represents the Irmo-Chapin area, said he voted for the House version that passed last year after speaking with law enforcement and focusing on getting stronger penalties in the bill. Ballentine told The Irmo News that the Senate has made some changes that he can support.
“Looks like they’ve added a training component which would be free, and added even more penalties for criminals or irresponsible gun-owners. That’s something law enforcement and everyone was looking for.”
Guns would still be banned in the same places where they are currently not allowed, including schools, churches, courthouses, and in and on the grounds of the South Carolina State House.
Gov. Henry McMaster agreed to support the bill after the increased penalties were added to the legislation. He said he would sign off on the legislation.
Democrats have voiced strong opposition to the bill, expressing concerns that it could allow individuals to carry firearms without any required training and eliminates the background checks that come with permit renewals, which will make it easier for criminals to acquire firearms.
Some Democrats were angered by the bill, according to published reports.
“Now we’re going for a free-for-all,” Sen. Kevin Johnson (D-Clarendon) said. “People can have guns willy-nilly; no permit, no training and I think that’s a recipe for disaster in South Carolina.”
Sen. Mia McLeod of Columbia said the legislation “is going to turn our state into the Wild, Wild West.”