As criminal defense attorneys in Mt Pleasant and Charleston, SC, we know South Carolina handgun laws can be confusing. Violations of gun laws, even innocent ones, can lead to jail time, fines, and the loss of the weapon. Because these laws vary from state to state, when you travel between states, it is hard to know what is legal.
Recently, we represented a client who was traveling from another state to South Carolina and was stopped for a traffic violation. Although he had a concealed weapons permit (CWP) from another state, law enforcement confiscated his handgun because it was loaded and in the side pocket of his automobile. We don’t want this to happen to you, so we wrote this article on the laws on handguns in South Carolina to hopefully assist South Carolina residents or people passing through this state in determining what they can and can’t do when carrying their firearms.
What are the Handgun Laws in South Carolina?
This article is written for common citizens who have not been granted special privileges, but it also covers laws for concealed weapons permit (CWP) holders. In this article, we examine many issues such as where you can carry a concealed weapon, possessing a weapon at your business, transporting a weapon, selling a gun, finding a gun, and much more. For information on South Carolina’s Stand Your Ground Laws, please click here to read our in-depth article on the subject.
Do I Need a Permit to Own a Weapon in South Carolina?
Although this article examines concealed weapons permits, we’ve been asked whether a person needs a permit to OWN a handgun, a rifle, or a shotgun in South Carolina. The answer is no; no permit is required for ownership.
Is South Carolina an “Open Carry” State?
Yes. South Carolina allows concealed weapons permit (CWP) holders to openly carry a weapon on them or in their vehicle. The law also eliminates the $50 fee for a CWP. Regarding the weapon, South Carolina law allows open carry of a gun “having a length of less than 12 inches measured along its greatest dimension that may be carried openly on one’s person or in a manner that is hidden from public view in normal wear of clothing except when needed for self-defense, defense of others, and the protection of real or personal property.”
Where Can’t a Concealed Weapon Holder Carry a Gun in South Carolina?
A CWP holder may not carry a gun in the following places:
- Restaurants that serve alcohol for on-premises consumption UNLESS you don’t consume any alcohol.
- Police stations, Sheriff’s departments, or other law enforcement facilities.
- Jails or detention centers.
- Polling places on election days.
- Offices or meeting places of governmental entities such as counties, cities, and school districts.
- School or college athletic events not related to firearms.
- Church officials who hold a CWP may carry a handgun openly or concealed on school grounds when the property is leased by the church and only during services or other official church activities.
- Daycares or preschools.
- Places where the carrying of firearms is prohibited by federal law.
- Churches or religious sanctuaries unless permission is given by the head of the facility.
- Hospitals, medical clinics, doctor’s offices, or other places where medical services are rendered unless permission is given by the head of the facility.
- Businesses or other establishments that post “No Concealed Weapons Allowed” signs or that otherwise express that they do not want concealed weapons on their premises.
- Homes, apartments, or other dwellings unless you have the express permission of the person living at the residence.
- If you bring a gun to a school or college of any kind, don’t carry the gun on you. It must be in a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk, or in a closed container secured by an integral fastener and transported in the luggage compartment of the vehicle.
Any person may carry a concealable weapon from their automobile to a hotel room that person has rented.
Can I Carry My Handgun in My Car in South Carolina?
Yes you can, but where you keep your weapon depends on whether you have a concealed weapons permit or not
With a Concealed Weapons Permit – CWP holders can carry a weapon openly in their vehicle.
Without a Concealed Weapons Permit – You may carry a handgun in a vehicle secured in a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk, or in a closed container secured by an integral fastener and transported in the luggage compartment of the vehicle. The exception is that you can’t bring a gun to a school or college of any kind.
It is a little unclear what the South Carolina legislature meant when they used the term “integral fastener,” so to be safe, we suggest that any container used to transport a handgun be something that is lockable and that snaps or latches closed. A shoebox wouldn’t qualify.
The term “luggage compartment” is tricky as well, but the law provides definitions. It means the trunk if the car has a trunk. If the car doesn’t have a trunk, it means “the area of the motor vehicle in which the manufacturer designed that luggage be carried or to the area of the motor vehicle in which luggage is customarily carried.” In a station wagon, van, hatchback vehicle, or sport utility vehicle, the term “luggage compartment” refers to the area behind, but not under, the rearmost seat. In a truck, the term luggage compartment refers to the area behind the rearmost seat, but not under the front seat.
If you’re riding a motorcycle, you must secure the handgun in a closed saddlebag or other similar closed accessory containers. Under no circumstance can you carry the gun under the seat, in your pocket, or anywhere not specifically mentioned above.
Does South Carolina Have Reciprocity with Other States Regarding CWP Holders?
Reciprocity refers to an agreement between two states to recognize each other’s laws. South Carolina has reciprocity with certain states regarding concealed weapons permits. This means that if you hold a CWP in South Carolina, various other states will recognize it, but you still have to comply with that state’s laws when carrying it. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has a map on its website that shows the reciprocity between states.
Who Can’t Own a Gun in South Carolina?
- Persons convicted of a felony, a violent crime, a crime of criminal domestic violence, or are under a domestic order of protection (a/k/a restraining order in family court), then you may not possess a firearm or ammunition at any time. If your domestic order of protection has expired, you might be able to get your gun rights back. If you were convicted of CDV but had it expunged, you might be able to get your gun rights back.
- Persons who are drug addicts or users, illegal aliens, an alien under a non-immigrant visa, a dishonorably discharged veteran, or a fugitive from justice, then you may not possess a firearm or ammunition at any time.
- Persons who aren’t a felon but are awaiting trial on felony charges may not receive a firearm.
- Persons who are on probation or parole.
- Persons who have been declared mentally incompetent by a court of law.
- Persons who have been ordered by a court to surrender their firearms.
Can I Keep a Handgun at my Business in South Carolina?
If you are a business owner or the person in control of a business, you may carry a handgun at your business. If you are an employee, you may do so ONLY IF you have a concealed weapons permit AND you have the permission of the owner.
How Do I Keep Concealed Weapons Out of My Business?
You must post a sign that is clearly visible from the outside of the building. It must be at least 8 inches wide and at least 12 inches tall. It must state “NO CONCEALABLE WEAPONS ALLOWED” in black one-inch tall uppercase letters at the bottom of the sign and centered between the lateral edges of the sign. It must show a black silhouette of a handgun inside a circle seven inches in diameter with a diagonal line that runs from the lower left to the upper right at a forty-five-degree angle (think Ghostbusters). It must be placed between 40 and 60 inches from the bottom of the building’s entrance door. If the place does not have doors, then check with a lawyer to make sure the size and other requirements are met.
A person who brings a concealable weapon onto the premises or workplace that properly posts a “NO CONCEALABLE WEAPONS ALLOWED” sign may be charged with a violation of Section 16-11-620 (criminal trespass) for a first offense resulting in a $200 fine or 30 days in jail. Additionally, a second or third offense may result in having the person’s permit revoked for a period of one year.
Answers to Other Frequently Asked Questions about Handgun Laws in South Carolina
What if I Am Hunting in South Carolina? – Licensed hunters or fishermen who’re engaged in hunting or fishing or going to or from their places of hunting or fishing, while in a vehicle or on foot, may carry a handgun.
May I Bring a Handgun into a Friend’s House? – You may carry a handgun in your home or another person’s home ONLY IF you have the permission of the owner or the person in legal possession of the property.
How Do I Get a Handgun From One Place to Another? The handgun must be unloaded and in a secure wrapper and you must go directly from the building to your car or from your car to the building.
Can I Sell My Handgun in South Carolina? You may not sell, offer to sell, deliver, lease, rent, barter, exchange, or transport for sale into this State any handgun to people convicted of violent crimes, fugitives from justice, habitual drunkards, drug addicts, or people who have been adjudicated incompetent, a person who is a member of a subversive organization, people under the age of eighteen (with certain exceptions including members of the Armed Forces or R.O.T.C.), people who by order of a circuit judge or county court judge has been adjudged unfit to carry or possess a firearm, and illegal aliens. Likewise, it is illegal for the above-described people to carry or possess a handgun.
Finally, if the original serial number has been removed or obliterated, you cannot buy, sell, own, or carry the handgun, and you should probably contact a criminal lawyer to decide how to dispose of it.
If you are the seller of a handgun, it is recommended that you retain a lawyer to draft a Bill of Sale so that the transfer is documented. This way, if the gun is later used in a crime, you can show that the gun legally left your possession and went to someone else.
What Should I Do if I Find a Handgun? Call the police and turn it over to them. They will then try to determine whether the gun is stolen or if it was used in the commission of a crime, and they may be able to locate the rightful owner. They are required to publish the existence of the gun in the newspaper. If the gun is cleared and the owner does not turn up, then you may be able to keep the gun after 90 days go by if you pass an application check and pay the advertising costs, such as the cost of running the ad in the newspaper.
What Are Some Other Weapons Offenses in South Carolina? There are many weapons laws in South Carolina, and if you have any specific questions, you should consult with an attorney. However, some offenses are more commonly seen than others. You can’t own or handle an automatic weapon, sawed-off rifle, or sawed-off shotgun. You can’t bring to a school any weapon, which includes a knife with over a 2-inch blade, a blackjack, a metal pipe or pole, firearms, or any other type of weapon, device, or object which may be used to inflict bodily injury or death. The exception is that a concealed weapons permit holder may carry the weapon inside an attended or locked motor vehicle and is secured in a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk, or in a closed container secured by an integral fastener and transported in the luggage compartment of the vehicle.
Also, this is hopefully obvious, but you can’t point a firearm at another person. You can’t discharge a firearm at or into a building or any structure that can be occupied by people. You can’t discharge a weapon at a car, boat, or aircraft.
City and county ordinances may regulate the careless or negligent discharge or brandishing (displaying) of firearms. Check your local laws before handling or discharging firearms.
Download Our Free Book on Gun Laws in South Carolina
Numerous citizens own guns and use them for self-defense, target shooting, hunting, and other lawful purposes. If you’re a gun owner or thinking about purchasing a gun, you should familiarize yourself with the laws on guns so that you don’t get caught accidentally violating a law. Concealed weapons permit classes provide good education on both gun laws and gun safety, so consider taking one.
Stephan Futeral’s and Thomas Nelson’s Book, “Gun Laws in South Carolina – Piecing It All Together,” is available for FREE on the iTunes® Bookstore or as a PDF. Based on over 30 years of their combined experience, Stephan and Thomas wrote this book in easy-to-understand terms to explain the laws and your rights in South Carolina when you own, carry, or use a firearm. If you own a weapon such as a handgun or if you have a Concealed Weapons Permit, then this book is a MUST READ.