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South Carolina to provide free gun training classes under open carry bill passed by state Senate

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina would provide free gun training and allow anyone who can legally own a gun to carry their weapon in public under a bill that passed the state Senate on Thursday.

The training was a compromise that finally brought two weeks of debate to an end, convincing a handful of Republicans reluctant to allow open carrying of guns without encouraging the class currently needed to get a concealed weapons permit — a position that also worried a number of law enforcement leaders.

The bill was approved on a 28-15 vote. One Republican voted against it and one Democratic senator voted for it.

The proposal now returns to the House to see if they will agree to the Senate's changes.

Twenty-seven other states allow open carry of guns without a permit, including nearly every one in the Deep South.

Traditional gun-free zones like hospitals, schools and the Statehouse would remain as well as businesses that choose to ban weapons.

The Senate version of the bill also would require a statewide advertising campaign to let people know about the free concealed weapons permit training classes while also informing residents that guns can be carried openly by anyone 18 or over.

Supporters of the proposal also added enhanced penalties if someone is convicted of carrying a gun in a place weapons are prohibited and do not have the concealed weapons permit.

Allowing open carry of weapons has been a goal of Republican Sen. Shane Martin since he was elected to the Senate in 2008. He said the bill isn't exactly what he wanted, but it is close and compromise was needed to get it passed.

“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.

Opponents to the compromise reached at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday were still stunned as the final vote came up about 15 hours later.

They were almost all Democrats and said Republicans wanted to spend millions of dollars on gun training and promoting people to buy weapons while rejecting Medicaid expansion or expanding summer feeding programs for poor children because it is too expensive.

“I think what we're doing today is going to turn our state into the Wild, Wild West. No licenses, no training, inadequate background checks,” said Sen. Mia McLeod of Columbia, an independent who often votes with Democrats.

Some conservatives were initially torn by the weight of a number of law enforcement leaders who said they worry about armed people with a lack of training as well as officers arriving at shooting scenes where they might encounter a number of armed people as they try to assess who is a threat and who is trying to help.

The bill includes new state penalties of at least five years when a felon is convicted of a crime using a gun. Police had been imploring for this proposal for years and its inclusion in the open carry bill was seen as a compromise.

Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also has been urging lawmakers to pass the new penalties and asked the House to approve the Senate bill and get it to his desk as soon as possible.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey if Edgefield said the bill likely wouldn't have passed without the free training and another proposal that would add up to an additional three years in prison for someone convicted of a gun crime who has not taken the concealed weapons permit class.

Massey didn’t get a formal estimate on how much it will cost to have at least two free training classes a week in each of the state’s 46 counties. Based on the number of concealed weapons permits issued in the state each year, he estimated it would cost at least $4 million.