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House Approves Allowing Concealed Guns In Bars

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(Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — People with concealed weapon permits could soon be able to carry their guns into South Carolina’s restaurants and bars.

The 100-12 vote in the House on Tuesday would allow the measure to become law before this year’s legislative session ends.

The bill would allow permit holders to keep their weapon with them when they go out to dinner or enter a bar, but makes it illegal to consume alcohol when they do so. It would also give business owners the right to ban concealed carry on their property by posting signs against it.

The bill faces a perfunctory vote in the House before returning to the Senate. That chamber’s version set a curfew. It continues to ban concealed guns between midnight and 5 a.m. from businesses that serve alcohol. Neither state law nor the state’s tax code distinguishes between bars and restaurants.

The discussion featured a political twist: the House’s top Democrat touting the expanded gun rights bill, and a Republican arguing against it.

Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, said alcohol and guns do not mix. While he believes in the Second Amendment, he said, he’s concerned that some permit holders will consume alcohol while they’re out, even if they’re not supposed to, inside the business. He said it may also increase businesses’ insurance rates.

But House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford encouraged colleagues of both parties to support the bill.

“Those people who go out and get certified and take a class and want to do the right thing are the good guys,” said Rutherford, D-Columbia. “A number of people in my district think I’m absolutely insane in supporting this, but it is the right thing to do. … If a restaurant doesn’t want it, they simply need to put up a sign and that is the law.”

The House version also allows gun owners to apply for a concealed weapon permit online, to speed up the application process. The amendment mirrored a separate measure that previously passed the House, giving it a chance of passing this year too. The regular session ends Thursday.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is being swamped by paper permit applications, making it difficult for the agency to meet a state law requiring that a permit be issued or denied within 90 days.

The amendment raises the $50 application fee to $75, largely to help the agency pay for the technology. SLED hopes to have an automated system in place later this year, though paper filing would continue to be an option for those who aren’t computer-savvy.

Roughly 200,000 people hold concealed weapon permits from South Carolina. According to SLED’s statistics, the agency approved nearly 42,600 new permits in 2012. That’s almost 18,000 more new permits when compared to the previous year.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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