A bill in the S.C. Senate would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry their weapons in restaurants that sell alcohol, which is illegal under current state laws.
Currently, a concealed carry permit holder is not allowed to carry in a number of places, including schools, government buildings, detention centers or corrections facilities, day cares and businesses that serve alcohol for consumption.
Senate Bill 308 would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry their weapons into restaurants that serve alcohol for consumption unless a notice of prohibition is posted by the business owner. It would still be illegal for a permit holder to consume alcohol while they are carrying a weapon.
The bill, which was introduced by state Sen. Sean Bennett, R-Dorchester, has passed in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and Committee and is on the Senate's contested calendar.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, a sponsor of the bill, said “responsible gun owners” in South Carolina need to be trusted.
“The people we're talking about here are those folks who have concealed weapons permits,” he said. “That means they've undergone the background checks, they've been fingerprinted, they've had the training course, they've paid the fee necessary to register.”
To obtain a concealed carry permit in South Carolina, a person must be at least 21 years old, complete a state-mandated eight-hour course, pay the $50 application fee to the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, submit a set of finger prints and also consent to a background check conducted by SLED.
Massey said it's the “good guys” who go through the process of obtaining a concealed carry permit.
“These folks are not causing trouble anywhere, and if you talk to law enforcement personnel, they will tell you that they don't have trouble from the concealed weapon permit holders,” he said.
Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, who holds a concealed carry permit, is familiar with the testing and background check required to obtain a permit.
“SLED provided testimony that there's been no case in 14 years since South Carolina started the concealed weapon permit program where a concealed weapon permit holder had engaged in an activity that injured another person by using a handgun wrongfully in a public place,” Young said.
Violating the law is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to two years in prison. Young said he also supports the bill because it allows business owners to prohibit the carry of weapons in their establishments.
He said he's received many emails from people in support of the bill, including a number of women who expressed interest in carrying a weapon, especially if they're meeting someone at a restaurant at night. The current law requires them to leave their weapon in their vehicle.
“If this legislation went into effect, they would be able to carry it with them as a form of protection between the vehicle and the establishment. Whereas currently, they don't have that option in a place that serves alcohol,” Young said.
Bryan Mitchell, general manager of The Polo Tavern and the Cork & Bean at One Hundred Laurens, said he is against people carrying in the bars, which are both inside Hotel Aiken.
“Anybody around them that's drinking might even grab it,” he said. “I don't even think it needs to be in the presence of someone that's consuming alcohol.”
Mitchell said if the legislation passed, they would post signs at the entrance prohibiting concealed weapons.
However, Cutter Mitchell, owner of Ryan's Downtown Market and Deli, said he is in favor of the bill.
“I think the people with the concealed permits are the people that are abiding by the law, so I don't think it accomplishes a lot to prevent them from entering the establishment,” he said. “There's nothing to stop them from having a few beers at home and carrying out around town, which they're not going to do anyway because they're the good guys – the law-abiding citizens.”
While the deli sells alcohol, it's not advertised with the glowing neon lights and signs that many bars use.
“We're not really a drinking establishment,” Cutter Mitchell said. “So it's one of those things where they'd technically be in violation and subject to severe penalties when they're not really violating the spirit of the law.”
Young said the Senate could vote on the bill in the coming weeks. He's confident a majority of the Senate supports the bill.
Massey said it will be a “tight” vote in the Senate.
“If the Senate passes it, I would suspect that the House looks at it favorably,” Massey said.
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.