Why S.C. Needs a Constitutional Carry Law
MORE FREEDOM, LESS CRIME
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
—U.S. Constitution, Second Amendment
Despite the plain meaning of “shall not be infringed,” the fundamental right to carry a firearm for protection has been repeatedly infringed upon, in South Carolina law as in federal law. South Carolina is, in fact, not nearly as “pro-gun” as its “red state” reputation would suggest. A Mercatus Center report that ranks states on freedom in various categories ranked South Carolina 35th (1st being most free) in the category of gun control.
Currently, in order to practice your fundamental right to self-defense with a firearm, a right dating back to English common law and recognized by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, South Carolinians who want a permit to carry a concealed handgun in approved locations are required to pay the government a $50 fee (tax), take an eight hour training class, and wait three months for a permit to be “processed.”
In this scheme, carrying a firearm for self-defense is a privilege, not a right.
Hence the popularity of “constitutional carry” laws. A constitutional carry law would permit anyone who is legally allowed to own a handgun in the state to carry that handgun in public, either openly (in plain sight) or concealed, without the requirement of a concealed weapons permit.
Why do we need constitutional carry?
In 1996, South Carolina passed legislation to change from a “may-issue” state to a “shall-issue” state for concealed weapons permit. May-issue means issuance of the permit to carry is at the discretion of local authorities; shall-issue means the permit must be issued if the applicant meets the requirements laid out by law.
Violent crime in South Carolina has steadily decreased since 1996 after experiencing a period of increase in violent crime per year in the early 1990s. In the three years prior to becoming a shall-issue state, South Carolina averaged over 104 violent crimes per year per 10,000 residents. In the three years after becoming a shall-issue state, South Carolina averaged 92 violent crimes per year per 10,000 residents. On average, violent crime in South Carolina has decreased by 3 percent per year per 10,000 residents since 1996. In 2011, South Carolina experienced 59.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents, 40.28 percent fewer violent crimes than were committed in 1995 (100.7 per 10,000).
Studies have consistently shown, furthermore, that having more armed citizens can be a crime deterrent. John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime,argues that the introduction of shall-issue concealed weapon permit laws in many states have lowered violent crime rates, mainly because criminals are deterred by the risk of attacking an armed citizen.
While other factors certainly play a part in reduction in violent crimes, the evidence does support a correlation between South Carolina becoming a shall-issue state and a reduction in violent crimes committed. If greater freedom to carry firearms contributed in a significant way to the reduction of violent crime, it stands to reason that greater freedom in that area would have similarly beneficial effects.
Where do we stand now?
The Senate Judiciary Committee debated constitutional carry and removing the infringement on our Second Amendment right this session. The idea faced stiff opposition from both Democrat and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, particularly during a February 4, 2014 committee meeting.
Senator Creighton Coleman argued that requiring citizens to obtain a permit prior to carrying a firearm for protection is a benefit to public safety because it prevents untrained individuals from carrying firearms. That may be true in specific cases, just as a law requiring a permit for carrying a knife may prevent an accident. But it’s beside the point. The right to carry firearms for self-defense is a constitutional right and can’t be infringed upon simply because a government official foresees accidents happening.
Senator Larry Martin argued constitutional carry would allow “any two-bit criminal” to carry guns legally and openly in public. The logic here is flawed for three reasons. First, most criminals obtain firearms illegally because their criminal record prevents them from legally obtaining a firearm; constitutional carry would not change that. Second, gun laws do not deter criminals from illegally carrying or owning firearms, or prevent criminals from committing violent crimes. Third, criminals typically prefer to carry handguns concealed, not openly, for obvious reasons.
Senator John Scott argued that constitutional carry, open carry, or carry in general will turn South Carolina into the old “wild-wild west” with our streets covered in blood from shootouts between criminals, carrying citizens and law enforcement. There is not a script of evidence to support this claim, and plenty to refute it. A 2004 study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences “found no credible evidence” that right-to-carry laws increased violent crime, while a 2003 study by the Center for Disease Control found there is “evidence insufficient to determine the effect of shall issue laws on violent crime.” Both studies contradict claims that more citizens carrying guns for protection results in more violence.
Currently, four states have embraced constitutional carry: Vermont, Arizona, Alaska, and Wyoming. Vermont has allowed constitutional carry since the eighteenth century and is ranked the second most peaceful state in America by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Arizona and Wyoming passed constitutional carry in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Violent crime rates in both states have decreased in comparison to levels before enacting constitutional carry.
On February 11, 2014 Governor Nikki Haley signed S.308 (the “Restaurant Carry Bill”) into law, allowing concealed weapon permit holders to carry their firearms into businesses that sell alcohol for consumption on the premises as long as the permit holder does not himself consume alcohol. Many opponents of the bill argued that violent crime would increase, but analysis of crime data so far proves otherwise. From February 11, 2014 to May 19, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina, 3,497 violent crimes were reported. For the same time period in 2013, 4,130 violent crimes were reported. After S.308 passed, 633 fewer violent crimes were reported in 2014 than the same period of time in 2013. The passage of the “Restaurant Carry Bill” did not increase violent crime in Columbia.
The big picture
Consider the case of the city of Kennesaw, Georgia. In 1982, the city of Kennesaw passed an ordinance requiring each head of household to own and maintain a gun. Prior to 1982, Kennesaw had a significantly higher crime rate than the national average, but according to city officials, after passage of the ordinance, the crime rate dropped significantly and has remained at the same low level.
This may be an extreme measure, and SCPC would not endorse any requirement on private individuals to own or maintain anything. But the case of Kennesaw does refute the notion that widespread gun ownership contributes to violent crime. And of course the opposite extreme solution is an all-out bans on firearms. Chicago, which has some of the strictest gun laws in America, was recently named the murder capital of the United States by a 2013 FBI report. The city’s gun control laws – like gun control laws across the nation – have simply not worked.
Eliminating the barrier to constitutional carry, albeit just one step, is a crucial one in the process of achieving firearm freedom in South Carolina.