Charleston Police Department formally takes stance on open carry bill

Published: Apr. 25, 2017 at 3:41 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2017 at 5:25 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Lowcountry police department has formally taken a stance on a Senate bill which, if passed, would allow anyone who can legally purchase a gun to carry it in the state openly or concealed.

The Charleston Police Department tweeted an update on its Twitter account Monday night sharing the department's opinion on Senate bill S. 449 reading in part:

"Please understand what this bill creates – the ability for anyone who can legally purchase a firearm, many who have not completed a background check to determine whether or not they are prohibited purchasers due to the location and manner of the transfer or received any type of training, to walk our streets and neighborhoods with a handgun on their hip, in a bag, or under their jacket without any review or training."

"That's awesome," said Jeanine Cafaro, of Charleston, who is against the bill.

"The police see all the crime that happens," said Antonio Smith, of Charleston. "So I think they will have the best finger on the pulse of what gun crime really looks like."

The bill seeks to change much of the South Carolina Code of Laws 1976, specifically changing Section 16-23-20 to read, "It is lawful for anyone to carry about the person any handgun, whether concealed or not, except provided for in subsection (B) or if the person is otherwise prohibited from owning, carrying, or purchasing a firearm as provided by state or federal law."

"It says anyone who can legally purchase a gun can carry it," said Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen. Our question is how is law enforcement going to determine whether the person carrying the gun on the street is legally capable of purchasing that."

In CPD's news release, the department said it supports the citizen's rights to carry guns under the current State concealed carry process. What concerns Mullen about the open carry law is the lack of completed background checks and proper training.

"There are a lot of flaws in this legislation, and it is not going to be good for our community," Mullen said. "It's not going to be good for police officers. The argument I've heard about people will just have to get used to is… I don't think that's a very legitimate argument when we're dealing with the violence we have in our community."

"We're not in the wild west," Cafaro added. "There just doesn't seem to be a reason to me. It's a safety hazard more than a safe thing."

Currently S. 449 is sitting in a Senate Subcommittee awaiting discussion.

Earlier this month Governor Henry McMaster said he would sign the bill and others for open, permitless carry if it were to come across his desk.

Other bills related to S. 449 include a House version (H. 3930) which passed 64-46 April 5, and is currently sitting in the Committee on Judiciary. Another House bill (H. 3700) failed to garner votes in March 79-20.

As of Tuesday morning, Sheriff Duane Lewis with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office said he does not support S. 449.

"It's worrisome to the general public," he said. "From a public safety issue, to see people with a gun [carrying openly]… it could be confusing to officers."

Lewis said his major concern is the lack of training and background check which may come with this bill.

"What works in another state doesn't necessarily work in another," he said. "I think the concealed weapon process is working fine."

Major John Grainger, with Goose Creek Police Department provided this statement:

"We respect the legislative process and will adjust our operations to adapt accordingly should S. 449 pass."

A spokesman for Summerville Police said the department has "no comment" on this issue.

Sheriff Al Cannon with the Charleston County Sheriff's Office provided the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

"My position is two-fold. I am supportive of the permit process (i.e. background checks and training). It helps to provide a safety for police officers because permit holders are required to show it to law enforcement. I also believe those pushing this new law are not looking at this through the eyes of the average citizen who may not be comfortable seeing guns in the open.

"However, I do not believe "Constitutional Carry" will cause a huge spike in crime or violence the way that some believe it will. None of the law enforcement associations that I am involved with have voiced concerns that this type of gun law produces more violence or problems."

Messages to other Lowcountry law enforcement agencies were not immediately returned.

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