COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina House passed its second expansion of the right to carry firearms this year, this time in a measure that would allow people to carry handguns openly regardless of whether they have a permit.
The 69-47 vote on the chamber's so-called "constitutional carry" bill came Wednesday over objections by some of the state's top voices in the law enforcement community and also Republican House members, who, in one case, argued the legislation would make South Carolina unsafe and put the state's friendly attitude toward families and businesses moving to the state at risk.
State Rep. Bart Blackwell, R-Aiken, said the proposal is "simply bad policy" and called it a "bad idea," acknowledging that his opposition puts him at risk, again, of sparking a primary challenger and getting a poor score from national gun rights group, the NRA.
He and other notable Republicans, including House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York; House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York; and state Rep. Kirkman, Finlay, voted against the bill.
"It doesn't make my constituents any safer. It doesn't really do anything," said Blackwell, a permitted gun owner. "It doesn't make South Carolina a better place to live, or work or raise a family. And I would argue it even makes it less attractive to visit and to invest for business."
The so-called constitutional carry measure — the belief the Constitution gives gun owners the right to carry without regulation — was part of an agreement between House leadership and a handful of Republican members, who pushed leaders for a vote on the bill, believing the House's legislation to allow for open carry with a permit does not go far enough to support the Second Amendment.
State Rep. Micah Caskey, a Lexington Republican who led hearings on the bill, said nothing in the legislation would change a person's legal authority to have a gun if that person is already able to possess a gun, meaning people who already cannot legally own a gun would not suddenly be able to under the bill.
Should the legislation become law, legal gun owners still could not carry on grounds where guns are banned, such as the State House.
"Nothing in this bill changes that," Caskey said.
But a clear dilemma for House Republicans who pushed for the bill's passage will be the state Senate.