Republicans in the South Carolina House of Representatives have vowed to reject S.C. Senate amendments to their permit-less carry bill (H.3594).
Backers of the bill (who often refer to this type of legislation as “constitutional carry”) are frustrated with amendments which they say cripple the legislation.
Constitutional carry is a legislative framework that enshrines into state law the constitutional right of Americans to carry a firearm on their person without government permission. Constitutional carry bills have been passed in 27 states.
(Click to view)
Constitutional carry advanced through the Senate after a multi-year legislative push, with a number of Republican senators who stalled efforts in 2021 lending their support this session.
It appears the price of broader support was the addition of a number of amendments that proponents of the original House bill say distort the author’s intent so significantly as to make passage without amendments by the House untenable.
The bill, which has now passed through both chambers, could have headed straight to the desk of governor Henry McMaster had House members concurred. Instead, it now contains a number of provisions which critics say turned their constitutional carry bill into a “compromised” carry bill.
Perhaps most glaringly illogical is a Senate amendment which punishes criminals more leniently if they commit violent crimes while in possession of a concealed carry permit.
This amendment seems to be a concession to the sect of senators who wanted some portion of the legislation to incentivize South Carolinians to get a concealed weapons permit. Throughout the Senate’s debate of the bill a “two-tiered” system was repeatedly proposed. Although no substantive amendment implementing this system was added to the bill, it is possible this strange amendment is a concession to the two-tiered proponents.
Any system segregating permitted gun owners and non-permitted gun owners is definitionally not constitutional carry. Considering the vast majority of South Carolinians will never commit a crime with a gun, however, they have little to worry about with this provision. Still, it is strange that political pressure was applied to add this amendment in the Senate.
Senators also added text mandating that the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) provide free gun training in every county. Taken on its face, this could be seen as an effort to make firearms training more accessible given the newfound ease of carrying a weapon. But the amendment’s addition could also have been designed to mollify the concerns of current CWP instructors – some of whom have voiced concerns to their representatives and senators that the passage of this bill would negatively impact their livelihood.
Those opposing the amendment argued it represented another expansion of government and imposed an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer – and on SLED, which they maintain is already understaffed.
Members of the S.C. Freedom Caucus focused on another controversial amendment adding members of the General Assembly to the list of state employees authorized to carry a handgun anywhere in the state (the list currently includes judges, prosecutors and other members of the legal system whose work might increase the likelihood of their being attacked). The group sent out an email decrying “Laws for Thee but not for Me,” opposing this preferential treatment for lawmakers.
House leadership seemed poised to pass constitutional carry as amended by the Senate – buoyed by the backing of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which threatened to negatively score lawmakers who didn’t concur with the Senate’s amendments. Despite this consensus, a number of representatives refused to quietly concur. State representative Jay Kilmartin of Irmo, S.C. went so far as to threaten to tear up his lifetime NRA membership on live television from the well of the House if the organization pressured members to accept a bill he felt was not true constitutional carry.
Those unfamiliar with the gun lobby might not know that the NRA isn’t the only advocacy organization in town. The group faces challenges from organizations like the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), whose operatives were busy urging voters to contact their representatives as deliberations on how the handle the bill continued behind closed doors this week.
(Click to view)
Ultimately, their efforts succeeded – resulting in House leadership vowing to send the bill to a conference committee to negotiate the removal of amendments with Senate designees.
Prior to pulling a 180 degree turn in response to grassroots pressure, advocates for the immediate passage of the bill argued (not without validity) that sending the legislation back to the Senate risked the bill failing to exit conference committee – but advocates for passage of the original House bill contended senators would kill the bill at their own political peril.
Senator Shane Martin‘s 2021 attempt to amend open carry legislation by turning it into permit-less carry legislation provides insight into the GOP senators who are most likely to oppose acceptance of the original House bill.
When Martin’s amendment was introduced, Republican senators Greg Hembree, Penry Gustafson, Michael Johnson, Sandy Senn, Sean Bennett, Hugh Leatherman (deceased), Chip Campsen, Luke Rankin and Shane Massey moved to table it.
While these lawmakers may have had parliamentary reasons for their votes independent of any ideological opposition to this legislation, this list remains a good indication of which senators could vote again to kill constitutional carry. One quick caveat: Johnson appears to have grown more supportive of constitutional carry since this roll call vote. Barring his shift (and Leatherman’s death), the only real difference between this year and 2021 are the looming primary elections in June.
As for the House, its leadership initially told members that failing to pass the Senate’s amendments was a surefire way to kill their bill. After grassroots pressure was applied, though, they vowed to stand by their original legislation – reversing course completely in the span of only a few hours. According to multiple sources familiar with the negotiating process, this was done in consultation with senior senators.
Given the lengthy debate required to get this bill out of the Senate, it is unlikely that the two-tier, or training amendments are highly negotiable, but Democrat senator Gerald Malloy‘s amendment empowering members of the General Assembly to carry wherever they please could be sacrificed in the name of passage.
Count on FITSNews to keep tabs on the behind-the-scenes battles as South Carolina’s permit-less carry debate continues when lawmakers return to the state capitol next week …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
(Via: Travis Bell)
Dylan Nolan is the director of special projects at FITSNews. He graduated from the Darla Moore school of business in 2021 with an accounting degree. Got a tip or story idea for Dylan? Email him here. You can also engage him socially @DNolan2000.
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our articles? Or an issue you’d like to proactively address? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your letter to the editor (or guest column) via email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.