A Rock Hill crowd urged a state Senate panel on Monday to move quickly to pass a bill that would allow South Carolinians to carry handguns concealed or not without a permit.
More than 150 people packed a standing-room-only auditorium at the Baxter Hood Center at York Technical College for the hearing on the S.C. Constitutional Carry Act of 2013.
The bill would repeal a state law that requires residents to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to carry a firearm, the proposals sponsors say.
For several supporters, the decision facing lawmakers comes down to whether law-abiding citizens should have the right to protect themselves without jumping through unnecessary legal hoops.
The debate is not only about freedom, said Chris Crooke of Indian Land. Its about trust.
You trust me to vote for you and entrust my freedoms and my liberties to you, yet Ive got to have a concealed weapons permit?
Some speakers warned of government overreach.
The reason you dont trust us is because we may overthrow you, said Jeff Mattox, a tea party-leaning government watchdog who frequents the State House. I dont carry a concealed weapons permit because I refuse to register.
Its none of your...business. Leave us alone. We want to be free. We dont need your help!
Though fewer in number, opponents of doing away with the permits urged the Senate panel including bill sponsors, state Sens. Lee Bright and Shane Martin, both Spartanburg Republicans to abandon the proposal.
Suzanne Rallis, a member of the Moms Demand Action gun-control group, urged the panel to reject the proposal, calling it irresponsible to not require a permit process.
I respect the Second Amendment, Rallis said. I dont want anyone to lose their guns. Thats not what were about here. But there are limits imposed on most amendments.
Open carry movement
South Carolina is one of six states plus the District of Columbia that expressly bars the open carrying of a firearm, according to opencarry.org, an organization that tracks gun laws. The other states are Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois and New York.
But South Carolina is not the only state looking to expand gun owners rights to carry their weapons in public.
At least 16 states already have laws that specifically allow some form of carrying a firearm visibly in public, according to Jon Griffin, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of those 16 require some type of permit to carry a weapon visibly.
However, at least nine states, including South Carolina, are considering laws to allow carrying a firearm with varying requirements.
If it becomes law, the S.C. proposal would apply only to people not already prohibited by other laws from carrying a firearm. It also would impose some limits on carrying firearms.
For example, it would be illegal to carry a weapon into a someones home without expressed permission. Business owners also could post signs prohibiting weapons, and employers could keep employees from carrying guns on the job.
Last year, a similar bill failed to make it out of a Senate committee. Sen. Bright urged the crowd Monday to contact lawmakers to express their support for the proposal.
Training a good idea
Not all opponents of the bill at Mondays hearing said they opposed carrying firearms or feared an overreaching government.
Some said they were concerned the law would encourage untrained people to walk around carrying handguns.
For over 60 years, guns have been my life, said Stuart Lord, an Army veteran and National Rifle Association instructor from York, adding that some type of instruction is necessary to carry a gun safely.
One of the hardest things that I have to teach my students is how to carry concealed, he said, adding that the part of carrying open without proper training that worries him is people just buying a gun and carrying it.
Janice Ayres, who said she recently obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon to protect herself and her home after a spike of murders in Lancaster County, said she also disagreed with many of the bills supporters.
I havent heard anything in the news, in the media or tonight that makes me feel threatened by the government, she said. I dont think it hurts to have that (training) requirement for people.