abortion impasse? Constitutional carry debate

Second Amendment


This week, just after a mass shooting in Michigan, lawmakers advanced a National Rifle Association-backed bill that would make South Carolina the 26th state to allow gun ownership without a permit.


Rep. Bobby Cox, R-Greenville, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

Meanwhile, the House chamber renewed yet another abortion ban debate, which is likely to result in a deadlock between the House and the Senate.

The same day, Feb. 15, former SC Gov. and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley kicked off her campaign to 2,000 attendees in Charleston and threw out a veiled challenge to her former boss, Donald Trump.

Let’s dive into what happened.

Committee advances bill that would allow firearm holders to carry weapons without a permit or training

On Feb. 14, The House Judiciary Committee advanced H. 3594 which would allow South Carolina residents to carry a firearm without training or a state permit.

Rep. Jason Elliot, R-Greenville, said the bill advanced the Open Carry law signed into law in Aug. 2021. The bill “does not change who can carry a concealable weapon, what weapon a person can carry, where or when a person can carry,” he said.

“If a person can’t carry a weapon now they won’t be able to carry a weapon under this bill,” Elliot said.

The 2021 “Open Carry” law allowed concealed weapon owners to openly carry a handgun as long as they were at least 21 years old, had a permit after taking take eight hours of training and passed a background check.

The proposed “Constitutional Carry” bill eliminates those requirements.

“We want to allow the general public to run around like the Wild Wild West and have these guns all over the place,” Rep. John King. D-York said.

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The bill does not allow gun holders to carry firearms in public places such as schools, detention facilities, courts, municipalities or private businesses that prohibit weapons. But an amendment by Rep. Elliot allowed a list of government employees, including judges and clerks, to carry guns in courthouses.

The proposed bill also said that those who have been convicted of a crime of any kind cannot possess a firearm. If a person is found unlawfully carrying a weapon and if it’s their first offense, they would be subject to imprisonment for up to five years. A second offense would mean imprisonment of a mandatory minimum of five years to 20 years and a third or subsequent violation would allow imprisonment between 10 to 30 years.

The passage of the bill came just a day after a shooting at Michigan State claimed three lives. Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, stressed the need for measures for responsible gun ownership in the state.

She also asked why attention wasn’t focused on the “Charleston loophole,” which allows a person to buy a gun if the results of the background check take more than three days. White Supremacist Dylann Roof waited three days to purchase a gun without a check and walked into Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and killed nine Black churchgoers, including the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

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Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, who said he is not against Second Amendment rights, asked if GOP members had considered the effect this bill would have on law enforcement officials.

When the 2021 Open Carry law passed, SC Criminal Justice Academy Director Lewis J. Swindler told The Greenville News that police officers had been shown a training video of how the police could approach a person and ask them if they had a permit or not.

The police can only approach someone if they have “reasonable suspicion” that an ordinary person is engaging in criminal activity. “Just because you’re in a high crime area doesn’t mean reasonable suspicion,” he said. 

People who are openly carrying guns have to act responsibly, he said. 

“Just because I’m wearing a gun doesn’t mean that I need to put my hand on it, touching it or certainly making fast actions, because you could be causing someone to react to you — police or another citizen,” he said. 

“Citizens need to be aware that showing the gun may not be the safest thing to do,” he said. “They’ve got to decide what’s best for them.” 

The State newspaper reported in 2021 that law enforcement officials such as SLED Chief Mark Keel had trepidations about the Open Carry bill and echoed concerns that a situation without checks could lead to “tragic” situations and change the relationship between police and gun holders.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, criticized the bill and the haste with which the bill was passed.

“Twenty years of United States Air Force service taught me many things – namely, that people should be vetted and trained in order to carry a firearm in public,” Patty Tuttle, South Carolina Moms Demand Action Volunteer and Retired U.S. Air Force Veteran said in a press release. “Keeping our current system of concealed weapons permitting does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights. It is a simple mechanism that makes all South Carolinians safer.”

Another impasse on abortion bans in SC?

The House and the Senate are headed toward another deadlock.

A House bill banning abortion from the time of conception with exceptions for victims of rape and incest passed the chamber overwhelmingly with a 83-31 vote on party lines.

The bill does not criminalize patients who receive an abortion, but allows the patient, a minor’s legal guardians, a solicitor or the state’s Attorney General to sue others who illegally end a pregnancy. Plaintiffs could receive damages of $10,000 for each violation.

The bill is headed to the Senate, which has maintained the chamber does not have the votes to pass any law that limits abortion any lower than six weeks of pregnancy and they’ve been saying that since last year.

Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe. v Wade, the legislature had called for a special session and attempted to pass a near-total abortion ban. GOP Sens. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, Tom Davis, R-Beaufort and Penry Gustafson, R-Kershaw, banded with Democrats to block a near-total abortion.

On Feb. 15, 2023, as the House debated the bill, Upstate lawmaker Josiah Magnuson, R-Spartanburg, attempted to amend the bill to remove exceptions for rape and incest and allow someone who intentionally gets an abortion to be imprisoned for two years and be fined $5,000.

Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, said though he agreed with removing exceptions, he knew the bill wouldn’t pass without those exceptions. Further, McCravy rebuffed Magnuson’s attempt to criminalize women and said lawmakers should “fall down on the side of mercy.”

More SC politics:

  • The rift between the South Carolina GOP and the Greenville County GOP continues. I reported last week that the state party had decided to takeover the county party’s reorganization. While the state party claimed that the county party broke rules, the county party denied it and said that they would continue with their plans. Time will tell how that goes.

What to watch for this week in SC politics:

On Tuesday, Feb. 21, an hour after the senate debate adjourns, a Senate committee will hear public testimony to decide whether the state should repeal the certificate of needs law. Currently, hospitals need to get a CON approved by DHEC to build and expand medical facilities.

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 9 a.m., the Veteran Affairs Committee will discuss S.440 that would create an “unorganized militia” – gun-bearers of age to have the rights to be armed and free from federal authority.

On Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 10 a.m., the Senate Education Committee will discuss S.124, that would help establish a program to hire non-certified teachers. Lawmakers have said this is an initiative to make for teacher vacancies in the public school system.

Devyani Chhetri covers the South Carolina State House and is a watchdog SC government reporter. You can reach her at dchhetri@gannett.com or @ChhetriDevyani.   

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