Originally created 11/30/97

Permits for hidden guns rise



COLUMBIA - In 1996, state Sen. John Land fought unsuccessfully to the end to stop a concealed-weapons bill from going to the governor. A year later, Calhoun County, which he represents, led the state in the per capita number of concealed-gun permits.

"I still think it's a bad idea, and I said all along I hope I didn't get proved right," said Mr. Land, D-Manning, who filibustered the bill because he said it would increase violence.

Since the measure became law in 1996, more than 8,800 people have received permits to carry hidden guns. So far, the State Law Enforcement Division and local authorities cannot cite a case where a legally concealed gun was used unlawfully.

In Aiken County, there have been no incidents involving officers and citizens carrying concealed weapons, said Lt. Michael Frank, spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.

"The way the law is written, if an officer stops a motorist and the motorists has a concealed weapon, the law requires that he present the permit to the officer," Lt. Frank said.

There also are fewer people interested in getting the permits, he said.

While there were long lines of people waiting to get applications and fingerprints last August, Lt. Frank said, "It's dropped way off. It's no more than a handful at a time. Since the initial rush, I've never seen lines."

Under the old law, permit applicants had to prove they needed to carry a concealed weapon - maybe they carried large sums of money or had received personal threats.

The new law allows any law-abiding citizen to pack heat once he or she completes a training course, passes a firing range test and pays a $50 application fee.

Harold Gunn, 42, and his wife, Elizabeth, took the training with her parents last year. The Berkeley County couple now have their permits and carry handguns; his is a .45-caliber, hers a .357.

"My wife is a dog trainer, and she does a lot of traveling to and from classes, and basically at night she does the traveling," Mr. Gunn said. "She's got a lot of open road that she's got to travel by herself."

Mr. Gunn said his wife also carries her pistol under her sweat shirt when she jogs near their rural home near Moncks Corner.

"There's never been a situation where I even thought I was going to have to use it," he said. "It's just like a first-aid kit for the house, you hope you never have to use it but it's good to have there."

In Calhoun County, at least 51 people have concealed gun permits. In a county with fewer than 13,000 residents, that's a permit for every 250 people.

"Why they're doing it, I really don't know," Sheriff Dennis "Bing" Jones said.

"Being from a rural county, you used to hear about things happening in Columbia. ... Now, it's hitting closer to home," said Sheriff Jones, who has approved permits for farmers and business owners, men and women, young and old.

In May, a clerk at a convenience store along Interstate 26 in Calhoun County was gunned down during a holdup. Five teen-agers were charged with murder and armed robbery.

Sheriff Jones has mixed emotions about the new law.

"Concealed weapons - you don't know who's got 'em," he said. Although no abuses have been reported, Sheriff Jones said he is still fears that with more guns around, the chances of a shootout go up.

Supporters, however, say concealed weapons are a crime deterrent because the criminals don't know who has them, either.

Packing heat

Here is a listing of area concealed-gun permits by county during the first year the revised South Carolina law was in effect. Each county is followed by the number of permits issued and the number of permits per 1,000 residents:

  • Aiken, 323, 2.7
  • Allendale, 22, 1.9
  • Bamberg, 25, 1.5
  • Barnwell, 68, 3.4
  • Edgefield, 37, 2.0
  • Lexington, 498, 3.0
  • McCormick, 11, 1.2
  • Orangeburg, 263, 3.1
  • Saluda, 36, 2.2
  • South Carolina, 8,862, 2.5
  • SOURCES: State Law Enforcement Division, U.S. Census Bureau