November 23, 2014

Restaurant carry bill will not become law in 2013

A bill that would have allowed concealed weapons permit (CWP) holders to carry their guns inside South Carolina bars and restaurants that serve alcohol will not pass this year. Opponents blocked the measure from coming to a vote on the state Senate’s final regular session day Thursday.

State Sen. John Scott filibustered the restaurant carry bill up to Thursday's deadline (File photo)

State Sen. John Scott filibustered the restaurant carry bill up to Thursday’s deadline (File photo)

Knowing that a 5:00 p.m. deadline was approaching, a group of Democrats led by State Sen. John Scott (D-Columbia) filed a slew of amendments to delay a vote. Supporters unsuccessfully tried to send the bill to conference committee.

“It’ll be one of the first things we take back up in January and we’ll have some more time to get it done,” the bill’s sponsor State Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Summerville) said afterwards.

Opponents were not happy that the House on Tuesday in a 100-12 vote removed compromise language that would have  created a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew for carrying weapons inside bars. The Senate had included that language in order to pass the bill in late April.

“You’re really asking for trouble,” Scott said. “The bill is so narrowly tailored; you could carry (guns) into a strip joint. And that’s nothing but trouble.”

Supporters admitted the House’s action unintentionally sabotaged the bill’s chances for 2013.

But House leaders said a curfew of any kind was unacceptable. “Why tell me I can protect myself in a restaurant until 12:00 and tell me I can’t at 12:05?” Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) told South Carolina Radio Network.

Neither the House nor Senate versions allowed the CWP holder to drink while carrying their weapon. Both versions also allow individual businesses to ban concealed weapons with a clearly-posted sign.

Already tight for time, the bill was unexpectedly delayed by a day in the House this week. That happened after Pitts included an amendment which would have provided the State Law Enforcement Division with the resources to eliminate a backlog in CWP permit applications.

But the amendment would have allowed SLED to charge a $75 fee (up from the current $50) to new applicants in order to cover the costs of upgrading its equipment. The House originally approved the increase Tuesday.

But many legislators balked a day later after the Tea Party-aligned Palmetto Liberty PAC sent an angry email to its supporters accusing Pitts of “treachery.” Pitts snapped back that the group was spreading misinformation, saying the House had already approved a similar fee increase in separate legislation earlier this year (the Senate has yet to take that legislation up).

After hours of debate Wednesday, the House voted 109-4 to pay for the upgrades through traditional tax collections, rather than a fee increase. Pitts opposed the idea, saying the system should be self-supporting.

The House also removed increased penalties for illegally carrying into a restaurant that had posted “no concealed weapons.” The current law is a $200 fine and up to 30 days in jail. The House had increased that to $1,000 and a year in jail, plus revoking a CWP license for 5 years.

Related story: Bill allowing weapons in restaurants still on agenda in 2014