We have all heard the phrase “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Most often we hear this from law enforcement officers during a traffic stop when we have done something like make a U-turn somewhere it is not permitted. Although we rarely think of this phrase when discussing firearms, we should really recognize the issues it causes for firearms owners.
Mainly we need to remember the “other side” is usually very “ignorant of the law.”
When new gun control regulations are proposed, those pushing for the legislation are often pushing for things that already exist in the current law. We talked about that in great detail in this previous post
Right now in South Carolina, “No Carry Signs” are something about which the other side is very ignorant.
First, as most of you reading this know, the only way you are allowed to carry a gun on your person in public in South Carolina, either concealed or openly, is if you have obtained a South Carolina Concealed Weapons Permit. There are multiple laws in South Carolina that forbid the carry of firearms in certain places or under certain conditions even if you have a permit. One of those laws is Section 23-31-215(M)(10) which prohibits a CWP holder from carrying somewhere a “No Carry Sign” is posted so long as the sign meets the requirements of Section 23-31-235. Violating this could lead to a trespassing charge under Section 16-11-620 with a fine of up to $200 or 30 days in jail.
Most of the confusion today about “No Carry Signs” comes from the changes to SC Law as a result of the Open Carry with Training Act that became law in August of 2021. With the implementation of Open Carry, there were changes to Section 23-31-520 that allowed municipalities to restrict the open carry of firearms during certain public events provided the restriction was clearly posted with signs and that those signs were removed at the conclusion of the event.
Many municipalities have attempted to use this change in the law to illegally install permanent “No Carry Signs” at city, county, or state parks. SC Carry has been working with our legislative partners to get these situations corrected.
Earlier this year one of our members pointed out that the South Carolina State Parks had information on its website FAQs indicating firearms were not allowed in state parks. This was contrary to the exception under Section 51-3-145(G) which allows CWP holders to carry in state parks. SC Carry contacted the South Carolina State Parks and they were kind enough to seek an opinion from the Attorney General. After receiving that opinion, they changed the information on their website and other guidance they provide visitors about carrying firearms so that it complied with South Carolina law.
We had another member report that the Charleston County Parks & Recreation Commission had installed very large permanent signs at the entrances to all their parks. We contacted CCPRC and were told they did not believe they were in violation of the law. We then reached out to some of our legislative partners and had them request an opinion from the Attorney General about this matter. The Attorney General issued his opinion on July 22, 2022 but CCPRC still refuses to remove their signs. We are continuing to pursue this matter with them to get these illegal signs removed.
With just these two examples, it is clear why ignorance of the law is important.
The simple point is this: A “No Carry Sign” in South Carolina does not add any additional charges to a suspect who is already violating the law but it does prevent law abiding citizens, who have taken the time to obtain their Concealed Weapons Permit, from being able to exercise their Constitutional Rights. Anyone who carries a firearm without a Concealed Weapons Permit would never be charged with a violation of Section 23-31-215(M)(10), the “No Carry Sign” part of the law, rather, they would be charged with a violation of Section 16-23-20 “Unlawful carrying of handgun.”
The research is clear that signs creating gun free zones do not make those places safer. In fact, the opposite is true; they actually make those places targets. Anyone who is unsure about this fact need only read the Buffalo Shooter’s manifesto to see that those who would choose to do harm are very aware of this:
“To maximize deaths of the intended target, attack in a high density, highly populated area…. Attacking in a weapon-restricted area may decrease the chance of civilian backlash. Schools, courts, or areas where CCW are outlawed or prohibited may be good areas of attack. Areas where CCW permits are low may also fit in this category. Areas with strict gun laws are also great places of attack.”
To understand how these situations can play out differently, just look at what happened at the Greenwood Park Mall in the city of Greenwood, Indiana. In that case, a 22 year old Concealed Weapons Permit holder was able to stop a gunman thus preventing any further loss of life. That mall was also a “Gun Free Zone” (per the mall policy) which, again, reinforces the statements made by the Buffalo Shooter. Fortunately for the 22 year old, the mall policy did not have the force of law so there were no charges filed against him because he was in fact legally carrying. Yet even after this incident, the mall policy about carrying weapons has not changed.
All of this points to the need to educate the public about “No Carry Signs”, CWP holders and the law.
When a business posts a “No Carry Sign”, they are not offering more protection to their customers; they are simply making them targets. Only those who have obtained their CWP could ever be charged with a violation of such signs and that is something we should kindly explain to any business with such signs.
If business owners really want to send a message to criminals who would bring guns onto their property to do harm, they would be better off posting signs welcoming CWP holders. Better yet, they would also become CWP holders themselves.
On the whole, CWP holders are some of the most responsible citizens in South Carolina and we must take our responsibility to educate the public seriously by kindly helping the other side understand how their ignorance of the law is doing more damage than good.