A recent concealed weapon training course at Champion Defense, a gun store in West Columbia (Photo courtesy of Champion Defense)
South Carolinians are divided over a proposed gun bill in the state Senate.
The controversial bill would allow gun owners to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. This would remove the mandatory training that getting a permit requires.
“H. 3594 protects law-abiding gun owners,” Rep. Bobby Cox, R-Greenville, said during the debate on the bill before the House approved it Feb. 22.
Cox is the bill’s primary sponsor. The removal of mandatory training is a criticism of the bill.
“Telling someone they don’t need a permit is like telling someone they don’t need a driver’s license to drive a car,” said Jay Harris, CEO of Champion Defense, a West Columbia gun store and shooting range.
Harris is a retired U.S. Army Ranger. His business offers certified firearm training courses, such as the one now required for a concealed weapon permit.
The lack of mandatory training is “a huge safety concern,” and the idea of people handling firearms with no training is “a scary thought,” he said.
But not every trainer shares that concern.
“(The lack of mandatory training) does not concern me personally, because I see the people that do want to get training are going to get training anyway,” said Sherra Scott, co-owner of Sandhill Shooting Sports, a shooting range in Lugoff, in Kershaw County.
Scott is also a board member of South Carolina Carry, a gun rights organization, and a National Rifle Association–certified firearm training instructor.
“(The bill) is definitely a step in the right direction to restore Second Amendment rights for South Carolina,” she said, agreeing that permits aren’t needed.
Sponsors of the bill said the same during the House debate.
“We encourage training at every opportunity, but (training) should not be a requirement to exercise one of your constitutional freedoms,” Greenville’s Cox said of the Second Amendment that prompts debate over how much individual gun ownership should be protected.
When law-abiding citizens are able to purchase firearms, they take it upon themselves to seek more training even if they meet any government requirement, Rep. Robert May III, R-Lexington, said during the debate.
“This is about restoring constitutional rights for everyone,” he said. “It puts us in the right direction.”
Another criticism is the bill’s potential effect on crime.
“I think it’s important for people in general to realize that it’s not law-abiding citizens that are causing issues,” said Sandhill Shooting’s Scott.
The bill’s sponsors said it will help South Carolinians defend themselves from danger.
“(The bill) will open up options to families to protect themselves without waiting for a permit,” Cox said.
Lexington’s May also said studies have shown these kinds of bills have made crime rates decrease.
But permitless carry laws are newer, and any studies that have been done are inconsistent, Wendy Regoeczi, professor and Department Chair of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina, said during an interview.
“The conclusion I came to in looking at the research in that area is that the jury is still out on the impacts of permitless carrying on homicide or violent crime in general,” Regoeczi said.
But “concealed carry” laws, such as South Carolina’s, have more research surrounding them.
“In states that were passing (such) carry concealed weapon permits, we’re seeing increases in homicide rates,” she said.
A 2017 study on how easier access to firearms affects homicide rates from the American Journal of Public Health said the same.
“There is supportive evidence that shall-issue concealed-carry laws may increase total and firearm homicides,” said a 2023 summary of research from the RAND Corporation. The RAND Corporation is a non-profit research organization that specializes in helping political decision making.
The bill also would lower the minimum age for South Carolinians to carry concealed weapons. South Carolina allows 18-year-olds to purchase guns, but people must be at least 21 years old to obtain a concealed weapons permit.
“I’m pretty much disgusted,” Patty Tuttle, leader of the Midlands chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said of the bill.
Tuttle said it’s a money issue and called out Cox for working for SIG Sauer Inc., a New Hampshire-based gun manufacturer, as vice president of government affairs.
“These legislators are tied to their own beliefs, and they’re pushing their own beliefs on everybody else,” she said of the bill’s sponsors.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 90-30 and sent it to the Senate.
The Senate referred the bill to its Judiciary Committee, where it has stayed since Feb. 28.