SC Legislature approves guns in restaurants bill - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

SC Legislature approves guns in restaurants bill

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - People with concealed-weapon permits are a signature away from being able to bring their guns into restaurants and bars in South Carolina, if the businesses themselves don't prohibit it.

The House's 90-18 vote Thursday sends the bill to Gov. Nikki Haley, who's certain to sign it. The Republican, who previously told voters she has a permit, last month posted on Facebook a photo of the Beretta she got for Christmas.

"Gov. Haley has and will always be a supporter of open-carry laws and will sign any bill that doesn't restrict the rights of guns owners," said her spokesman, Doug Mayer.

The bill makes it illegal for people to drink alcohol while carrying. Anyone caught would have the permit revoked for five years, plus face up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine. Businesses can post a sign barring concealed weapons.

Opponents say mixing guns and alcohol invites problems.

Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, said he's also concerned about the resulting confusion, if responding law enforcement officers can't distinguish between the permit holder and the bad guy.

"I'm not wanting us to create a gun fight at the OK bar by this legislation," he said.

But Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, said the bill allows law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves and their family while eating dinner, in case a criminal comes in and starts shooting.

"I'm absolutely not worried about a CWP holder. I am worried about the criminals who go in," said Pitts, a retired law enforcement officer. "I, in no way, want to prohibit an individual from being able to defend themselves, especially after they've jumped through the legal hoops" to secure a permit.

Pitts said he understands the concern about guns in bars: "No one should be armed and drinking at the same time."

But South Carolina makes no legal distinction between a restaurant and a bar, so the bill couldn't specify restaurants. It refers instead to businesses that sell alcohol for on-site consumption.

As of last week, more than 229,310 people in South Carolina held concealed-weapon permits, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Other parts of the law are designed to reduce the paperwork for the law enforcement department, thereby speeding up the application process for people who've completed the requirements for a permit.

People can apply for a permit online, allowing SLED to respond electronically. The agency can also use the person's driver's license photo for the permit.

The bill also expands where concealed permit holders can legally keep guns in their vehicles: The measure would allow holders to store the weapons under a seat or in any storage compartment, rather than only in the glove compartment, console or trunk. It also deletes the specification that classes for a concealed-weapon permit last eight hours.

Pitts, who teaches permit classes, said setting the time in state law creates an issue for instructors, since the time taken should depend on the students' familiarity with weapons. Experienced gun owners may not need eight hours, while others will need more, he said.

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