By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Feb. 26, 2013
Lowcountry residents pleaded Monday with four state senators on a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee to push a bill that would allow for the open carry of weapons in any location where a sign prohibiting weapons is not displayed.
The proposed bill, called the Constitutional Carry Act of 2013, would make it unlawful to carry a weapon with the intent to commit a crime. Weapons could be carried by lawful citizens with or without permits to any location unless otherwise posted by the property owner.
Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry, called the law part of a bigger struggle surrounding the Second Amendment in the state and nation.
“This is a fight over your civil rights,” he said. “It’s no different than your right to vote or free speech.”
More than 35 people spoke about gun control and their views about Second Amendment rights. Only one person, Charleston Police Chief Gregory Mullen, spoke against the bill.
Supporters of the bill said they believed permits created an undue burden because of their financial and educational components. Many who spoke were either veterans or said they grew up around firearms and were taught at a young age how to handle them.
Meanwhile, Mullen told the senators he thought the bill would make the job of law enforcement officers much more difficult and could be a detriment to public safety.
“I’ve been serving this country since I was 18 years old in one way or another,” Mullen said. “I think that when we talk about this there has to be a balance. There has to be a balance between what individual freedoms are and what community safety is.”
Mullen said the idea that the intent to commit a crime would determine whether someone could carry creates too much uncertainty for police officers because there would be no way to determine intent until after a crime would be committed. He also said he thought the law’s repeal of the concealed weapons permit could be dangerous.
“We are not against people carrying weapons, but we are for people having proper training to carry a weapon,” he said. “Don’t place police officers in jeopardy at the same time you are giving people additional opportunities to carry weapons.”
The five senators on the subcommittee will decide whether the bill moves before the full judiciary committee; only four attended the hearing in North Charleston. Sen. Bradley Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he wasn’t surprised that most who spoke out were in favor of the bill, although he didn’t believe the bill would pass the Senate if it got that far.
A related bill, S 308, would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry their weapons into businesses that sold alcohol unless otherwise posted by the business owner. The bill would also make it illegal for a person to carry a concealed weapon and consume alcohol.
That bill will be debated on the Senate floor.