On February 24, a panel of South Carolina lawmakers unanimously advanced legislation that would allow state residents who can legally own a gun to carry a concealed weapon in the state without a permit.
The bill, called "The South Carolina Law-Abiding Citizens Protection Act," has been given the thumbs-up by the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), although a sheriff's organization apparently has some issues with it
On Thursday, the measure sailed through a House subcommittee. Myrtle Beach Republican chairman Rep. Thad Viers said, "We firmly believe that if criminals are going to get guns illegally, we have to even the playing field and allow South Carolina citizens to have a right to defend themselves as well."
Democrats pointed out that in 2007, Viers, then 29, pleaded no contest and was fined $500 for making explicit phone threats to the boyfriend of his estranged wife.
The prosecutor at the time said the victim was so afraid that he slept cradling a shotgun.
Currently, obtaining a concealed weapons permit in South Carolina costs about $80 and requires a background check and a minimum of eight in-person training hours. The National Rifle Association recommends 10 hours.
The bill has the backing of GrassRoots GunRights, the state's most hardcore firearms advocacy group. Supporters, dubbed "GrassRoots Gorillas," attended hearings.
In 2009, a South Carolina pizza deliveryman was cleared of charges after he shot and killed an attacker with a concealed weapon while delivering to a suburb of the state capital. An attorney that same year was also cleared after he drew a concealed weapon and shot an armed robber who burst into a Columbia Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
In 2004, police charged a courtesy officer who carried a concealed weapon with murder after he used it kill an unarmed man following a confrontation outside a college-area apartment tower near the University of South Carolina. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and appealed to the S.C. Supreme Court, arguing the shooting was in self-defense. The high court did not agree with him and he went to prison.
Currently, South Carolina businesses can prohibit concealed weapons and the new bill would also allow that. But it would relax restrictions for gun owners to carry in a restaurant/bar unless barred by management. Guns would not be allowed in bars.
Right now 130,541 South Carolinians have concealed weapons permits, according to SLED.
In 2007 the agency saw a 50 percent increase in applications for concealed weapons permits. That number shot up by half again the next year following the election of Barack Obama. It doubled in 2009, setting a state record.
One prominent gun show organizer, Mike Kent, said he believed an unsure economy and a new Democratic administration were the reasons he'd seen crowds double or triple at gun shows in the state after the November 2008 elections.
Evelyn Dolven, an 83-year-old California native who now lives on the South Carolina coast, has pretty much made up a sort of one-woman gun-control lobby in the state for the past few years.
But, she says, she doesn't do much of that anymore and hasn't been following the recent legislation.
"That's the problem," she said recently over the phone. "There is no group, and so to be one lone voice here is ... I don't know."
Joe Katz, who teaches concealed weapons courses and calls himself "probably the only liberal in Columbia with a handgun," says the new bill doesn't bother him all that much on philosophical or business grounds. Responsible gun owners who want to learn how to use a firearm to protect themselves will still take courses, he says.
Currently, only Alaska, Arizona and Vermont allow residents to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.