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Gun Policy

How Easy Is It to Get a Gun in South Carolina?

Very easy — the state has some of the country's weakest gun laws.

In response to Wednesday’s mass shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, President Obama remarked today, “Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

It is not yet clear how the shooting suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, may have obtained the gun or guns allegedly used to kill nine people at a Bible-study group inside the church. (Roof’s father reportedly gave him a handgun as a birthday present, but it is not known whether the alleged shooter may have used it in the attack.) What we do know is that it is relatively easy to acquire a gun in South Carolina, which has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, according to a 2013 survey by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

South Carolina residents are not required to have a permit to legally purchase a gun. They don’t need to undergo background checks for private sales of firearms. The state doesn’t ban assault weapons, and there are no restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines.

Varying forms of concealed-carry laws have been in place in South Carolina for much of the last half-century. Starting in the early aughts, it has been legal to carry a concealed weapon in the state after undergoing a background check to obtain the requisite permit. As of February, there were 253,339 active concealed-carry permits in the state. Open carry of a firearm is, however, banned.

It is illegal to carry a concealed weapon into certain public areas in South Carolina, including churches, despite an attempt in 2011 to pass a bill in the House that would have allowed concealed guns in those spaces. The bill did not make it out of the House.

In addition to having some of the country’s weakest gun laws, South Carolina also has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Carolina has the tenth-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, with nearly 15 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents (adjusted for age). In 2009, the state was the sixth largest exporter of crime guns in the country, with 33 guns exported per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national average.

In 2014, South Carolina had the country’s second-highest rate of women killed by men, with the majority of those deaths involving guns. State lawmakers passed a domestic-violence bill earlier this month that increased penalties for abusers, including banning severe offenders from owning a firearm for ten years.

Despite the high rates of gun-related violence in South Carolina, there is a growing movement among the state’s legislators to loosen gun restrictions. In April, the South Carolina House passed a bill by a 90–18 vote that would allow anyone who can legally own a gun — including people from out of state — to carry a firearm, open or concealed, without a permit. The bill moved into the Senate, where debate on the measure has been postponed until next year.

Five states currently have such so-called “constitutional carry” laws on the books. South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, has been a vocal supporter of the legislation. Explaining why, Governor Haley said, “Criminals are dangerous, and I think that every resident should be allowed to protect themselves from criminals.”

This story has been updated to correct a factual error. It initial stated that South Carolina does not require background checks at gun shows. Vendors at state gun shows are legally bound to perform background checks on purchasers. 

[Photo: Flickr user TranceMist]