COLUMBIA, SC — The S.C. Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow concealed-weapons permit holders to carry guns into bars and restaurants until midnight — a victory for Second Amendment advocates.
The bill’s 33-5 vote Tuesday with bipartisan support came before next week’s deadline for sending bills to the House for possible passage.
The bill is the first to pass either State House chamber aimed at expanding gun rights amid a national debate over whether more or fewer gun laws will protect the country against violence such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year, and last week’s Boston bombings.
It may be the only one that gains traction.
Another Senate proposal, sponsored by Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, that would allow people to carry guns without permits, concealed or in the open, is in a Senate committee and facing opposition.
Bright tried to insert his proposal into the bill Tuesday but failed.
If the bill to allow weapons in bars and restaurants becomes law, concealed-permit holders would not be allowed to drink alcohol while carrying their guns, and bar and restaurant owners could choose to prohibit firearms. They also could ask anyone carrying a firearm to leave the premises.
Permit holders could not carry guns into restaurants and bars between midnight and 5 a.m.
The stance that guns and alcohol do not mix has been a common refrain among critics, including State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, offered the midnight deadline as a compromise to appease Democrats who took issue with allowing guns into bars.
While supporters set out to allow concealed-permit holders to carry guns while having dinner in restaurants — instead of leaving their weapons in their vehicles — the bill does not distinguish between bars and restaurants serving alcohol.
That is because the distinction also is unclear in state law, the bill’s supporters have said.
The people who carry concealed weapons are the “responsible good guys” among gun owners, said Massey, a co-sponsor of the bill. They have undergone background checks and completed courses on state firearms laws and on how to handle firearms, he said.
Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, proposed amendments to limit the time one could carry into a restaurant to earlier than midnight as most restaurants in his district close at 10 p.m. Allowing people to carry guns into bars late at night could impede law enforcement’s ability to protect the public, he said.
“It’s not about restricting rights, it’s about public safety,” he said.
But McElveen voted for the bill: “I want to be someone who compromises, who listens to both sides.”
Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, a Lexington Democrat who also voted for the bill, said it still has to pass the House where it will likely be revised and sent back to the Senate.
Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, said he expects many restaurants and bars “are going to post ‘no guns’ because they don’t want the liability.”
Still the bill was placed on priority status, likely as a result of “gun mania sweeping South Carolina and other parts of the country,” Gregory said.
Similar proposals have come up in previous sessions and failed. But this time, supporters rode the momentum of the national debate over gun rights.
That momentum may not be enough for Bright’s proposal to allow the carrying of guns without permits.
On Tuesday, Bright criticized members of his party for not getting behind his proposal.
Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said senators had concerns about it and would not say whether he plans on supporting it. Others, including Republicans, are clearer in their stance.
Bright’s bill is not a good substitute for current concealed-weapons laws, Gregory said.
Expanding rights for concealed-carry permit holders is a good way to expand gun rights, while maintaining a balance between those rights and protecting the public, he said.
He mentioned how he recently overheard a teenage girl in a York County gun shop talk about how she wanted to buy an AR-15 assault rifle. Gregory wondered, “What does a 19-year-old child need with a military weapon?”
Bright’s bill to allow anyone to carry a weapon without a permit “is not going anywhere,” Gregory said. “It’s not going to get six votes in this body.”
S.C.’s pro-gun push
Nearly two dozen gun-related bills were introduced at the start of the 2013-14 S.C. legislative session. Here is a sampling of the legislation:
S. 115 : “S.C. Constitutional Carry Act” would allow the carrying of firearms without concealed-weapons permits
S. 85 and S. 285 : Would exempt firearms and accessories made and kept in South Carolina from federal regulation
S. 316 : “2nd Amendment Preservation Act” would nullify federal actions that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms
S. 162 : Would allow schools to offer firearm marksmanship and gun-safety classes
Source: The State