Editor’s note: This post was part of a cover story package in our February 19, 2014 print edition. To read the other portion of the story, see “New S.C. gun law will strip mandatory 8-hour training requirement”, also by Corey Hutchins.
This morning, Gov. Nikki Haley signed a new law allowing concealed weapons permit holders to bring loaded weapons into bars and restaurants as long as there’s no sign prohibiting them and those carrying don’t drink. The law also strips a timing requirement for anyone taking a CWP course; they must take a written and firing test, but the course is no longer mandated to last eight hours.
We have a longer piece in our features section this week on the effect the law is having in the community and hospitality industry, and another piece about what scrapping the timing requirement could mean. But we thought we’d string out another part of the issue a little more. Specifically, how it passed so fast.
Similar laws had failed here several times before, said its latest sponsor Sen. Sean Bennett (R-Dorchester). Bennet has only been a lawmaker for two years, and he says he introduced the gun bill last year because his constituents asked him to. It was the first big debate in the Senate, which convened last month.
Here’s what else Bennett said about the speed in which his law passed.
“I think one of the reasons why it did pass is that it was laser focused. It was not a comprehensive overhaul of the concealed weapons permit laws of South Carolina. It was just very narrowly focused. One of two things happen with legislation, I think. You either have giant comprehensive bills that take years to get through or you keep them very narrow and simple. And sometimes those move more quickly.”
That could be one reason, but Shane Massey (R-Aiken), who chaired the Senate subcommittee that took up the bill last year, says the national conversation about gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting also likely played a role.
Here’s how Massey explained it to the City Paper:
“I do think though the national conversation had an impact. We passed a law to require mental health reporting for the background checks. That was a result of the national conversation. But also I think that because there seemed to be such a push coming out of Washington to restrict gun rights there was a response to that in South Carolina that helped push this legislation to allow for more responsible gun ownership. I do think that there was a push back to the national conversation that helped this bill pass.”
Winthrop University political scientist and pollster Scott Huffmon says that 2014 being an election year also helped. “I think there was hesitation, born of fear, that to not support it might be taken out of context,” he says. Voting against the bill, regardless of a lawmaker’s previous support for gun rights, Huffmon says, might have signaled to special interests and voters that he or she doesn’t support gun rights.
The measure passed with bipartisan support. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) championed the bill. Haley’s likely rival for governor this year, Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden), voted for it. This year, Sheheen needs to make up at least 5 points, Huffmon says, and if he’d voted against the gun bill he could have lost as much at 10.
For some, though, the law didn’t pass quickly enough — or go as far as it could have.
Robert Butler, who tracks legislation for the Lexington-based GrassRoots GunRights group, says he doesn’t like that the new law bans CWP holders from gunslinging while sipping on a cocktail. Butler doesn’t drink, but he knows some gun-toting folks who do. “I have friends who do like to have a glass of wine with dinner or a drink or two, and they should be allowed to do that,” he says. “It’s an issue of personal responsibility and freedom.”
Asked why he thinks the legislation passed so quickly, Butler said it might have something to do with former Sen. Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) being sent out to pasture in the 2012 elections. For his part, Massey says that likely had an impact because the ex-senator had previously hindered movement on the law, but, he added, “I don’t think that by itself was enough.”