February 10, 2016

SC Senate votes to allow concealed guns in bars, restaurants


Image: SCETV

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, speaks in favor of the bill Thursday (Image: SCETV)

State senators have given their approval to an amended bill that would allow a concealed weapons permit holder to carry their gun into a South Carolina bar or restaurant that serves alcohol, provided they do not drink. The legislation now heads to the House, where it is expected to easily pass — possibly as soon as next week.

South Carolina is one of only two states with an outright ban on firearms in establishments that serve alcohol (although many states leave it up to their municipal governments and others classify “bars” and “restaurants” differently than the Palmetto State). The other is Montana, according to the concealed carry information group Workman Consulting.

The bill includes language that allows a property owner to ban the weapons inside a restaurant, so long as the owner puts up a sign. It also sets a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail for carrying in a restaurant against the owner’s wishes. A violator would also have their CWP suspended for 5 years.

Thursday’s vote was not recorded, but lawmakers voted 34-3 on an amendment that cleared the way for the bill’s passage. All three “no” votes were Democrats.

Supporters said it allows legal carriers to protect themselves. “This bill is an acknowledgement that law-abiding gun owners with state licensed training deserve to have their constitutional rights protected, not restricted,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, said in a statement.

However, opponents charged it was sending the wrong message in a state with high violent crime rates. “All over the state, young people are shooting and killing each other,” Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, said. “And what are we doing? Passing legislation to put more guns back on the street.”

The bill removed compromise language that the Senate had passed last year which would have  created a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew for carrying weapons inside bars. Gun rights organizations argued they had as much right to carry at those hours as any other time of day, and successfully pressed the House to remove the curfew last year.

Senate Democrats, even those who ended up supporting the bill, attacked their GOP colleagues for tossing out the earlier compromise. They also criticized additional unrelated language that tries to reduce a current backlog for concealed weapons permits from the State Law Enforcement Division, saying it had not been vetted through a committee. That section would allow a CWP person to renew their license for five years (up from the current four) and would require SLED to notify them at least 30 days before a permit expires.

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