COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that she backs a proposal that would make it legal for most South Carolinians to carry guns – concealed or in the open – without a permit or the training that the state currently requires.
Haley made her comments after she signed into law a bill that allows gun owners with licenses to carry concealed weapons into businesses that serve alcohol – restaurants and bars – as long as they do not drink alcohol and the businesses did not bar guns.
After signing the restaurant and bar bill, Haley said she backs a pending state Senate bill, called the “Constitutional Carry Act,” that would eliminate the state’s current permitting and training requirements for citizens who wish to carry firearms.
“Criminals are dangerous, and I think that every resident should be allowed to protect themselves from criminals,” Haley said when asked by The State to respond to some state senators’ fears that doing away with the permitting and training requirements could threaten the public.
State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, the chief sponsor of the constitutional-carry proposal, says the 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to carry firearms without any government restrictions.
However, it is unlikely Bright’s bill will pass this year. It faces significant opposition in the Senate and still must clear the Senate committee where it nearly died last week.
Bright’s bill goes much further than the bill that Haley signed into law Tuesday.
The new law, supporters say, expands the rights of responsible gun owners – people who have gone through the required training and background checks to get a concealed weapons permit. Business owners can opt-out by posting signs barring concealed weapons on their property. Also, people who violate the law face a fine, possible jail time and the threat of losing their weapons permit for five years.
The new law still requires training but does away with the previous eight-hour requirement. Classes may take longer or less than eight hours, depending on the student. And professionals with previous firearms training – such as military or law enforcement service – can show proof of that training to speed up the permitting process.
Drinking alcohol while carrying a firearm still is illegal under the new law, Haley said, adding she wanted to clear up “misconceptions” that the bill is a “guns-in-bars bill.”
“The idea of going into a restaurant and having to leave it (your gun) in your car causes concern on whether it will be stolen … because as a CWP (concealed weapons permit) holder you are responsible for your gun,” Haley said, explaining why she supports the new law. “When it is not with you, you are concerned about who else it could be with or if somebody else could get it.”
South Carolina makes no legal distinction between a restaurant and a bar, critics of the law have noted, meaning the law applies to bars as well as restaurants.
Elaine Cooper of Columbia – a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, a group that fought the restaurant and bar bill – addressed Haley Tuesday at the bill-signing ceremony, saying she had talked to Columbia business owners that plan on opting out of the plan.
“I don’t believe that this is a sensible gun act,” Cooper said. “No matter how you spin it, alcohol does not mix with concealed weapons.”
“I agree that alcohol and guns don’t mix,” Haley said in response. “They never will. And that is why it’s illegal.”
Under Bright’s constitutional-carry bill, which Haley endorsed, permits no longer would be required to carry a concealed firearm. The state also no longer would require training for carrying firearms.
If Bright’s bill becomes law, any state resident who is not forbidden by law from possessing a firearm – such as a violent felon – would be able to carry a gun, concealed or out in the open, into the same places that gun owners with concealed weapons permits currently are allowed to carry their guns, including bars and restaurants.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said Tuesday he opposes the constitutional-carry bill.
The current permitting process ensures only “law-abiding citizens” are licensed to firearms, Martin said.
A “host of criminal violations” do not “disqualify you for gun ownership in South Carolina,” Martin said. But, he added, those violations “currently disqualify you” from having a concealed weapons permit.
“Is it (carrying firearms) a right under our Constitution? Sure it is. But it’s also a huge responsibility that we as citizens should respect.”