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South Carolina Senate passes open carry bill with addition of free gun training classes

South Carolina senators passed a bill allowing for open carry within the state, which includes a free firearms training course and enhanced penalties for crimes involving guns.

A bill passed in the South Carolina Senate on Thursday would allow gun owners to carry their weapon in public without a concealed carry permit and would provide free firearms training.

The bill was approved by a 28-15 vote after nearly two weeks of debate surrounding concerns from some lawmakers and law enforcement officials over the open carry aspect. The addition of free firearms training is what led to a compromise and ultimately ended the debate.

The proposal now returns to the House, where representatives will need to agree to the Senate's addition of the free firearms training, and other changes, in order for the bill to make it to Gov. Henry McMaster's desk. 

If signed into law, South Carolina will join 27 other states – including nearly every one in the Deep South – that allow open carry without a permit.

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The Senate's amendments to the bill also include a required statewide advertising campaign to inform South Carolinians of the free concealed weapons permit training classes while also informing residents that guns can be carried openly by those over 18.

The proposed bill does not change the fact that convicted felons cannot legally carry guns and also keeps places like hospitals, schools and the Statehouse gun-free zones. Gun owners would also not be allowed to carry in other businesses that have decided to ban weapons.

The bill also includes new state penalties of at least five years when a felon is convicted of a crime using a gun, enhanced penalties for those convicted of carrying a gun in prohibited areas, and up to three additional years in prison for someone convicted of a gun crime who has not taken the concealed weapons permit class.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said the bill probably would not have passed the Senate without the aforementioned changes, according to The Associated Press. Though he does not have a formal estimate on how much it will cost the state per year to host at least two free training classes per week in all 46 counties, he guessed it would be at least $4 million based on the number of concealed weapons permits issued in South Carolina each year.

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Republican Sen. Shane Martin celebrated the bill passing in the chamber and said allowing open carry has been a goal of his since he was elected to his position in 2008.

"I don’t think it's going to cause as many problems as they think it’s going to because the one thing we have to remember is the criminals are always going to be carrying," the senator from Spartanburg County said, adding that the bill wasn't exactly what he wanted, but the compromises were needed for it to pass.

Sen. Mia McLeod, an independent who often votes with Democrats, said she is concerned the bill will turn South Carolina into the "Wild, Wild West" with "no licenses, no training [and] inadequate background checks."

Law enforcement leaders have expressed worry over people carrying guns without training or experience, and the possibility of encountering armed people at a shooting scene and not being able to determine who is a threat and who is trying to help.

The concerns from law enforcement are what initially caused many Republican lawmakers to question the bill.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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