FILE - Rep. Bobby Cox

South Carolina state Rep. Bobby Cox, R-Greer

(The Center Square) – South Carolina lawmakers received a letter Tuesday signed by more than 90 faith leaders from across the state calling on them to reject a proposal to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry handguns openly in public.

House Bill 3094, the Open Carry with Training Act, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Cox, R-Greer, is set to be debated on the House floor, perhaps as soon as this week.

With 67 co-sponsors and Republicans in control of the House by an 81-43 margin, the measure appears poised to move onto the Senate.

House Majority Leader Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said earlier in the session it was “near certitude” HB 3094 would be adopted by the House because many Republican representatives campaigned on gun rights in 2020.

South Carolina is one of only five states nationwide that does not have a law allowing open carry of handguns with a permit. Under HB 3094, gun owners with concealed carry permits would be allowed to openly carry their weapon on their person or in their vehicle.

Businesses or other buildings that don’t want concealed weapons permit holders to openly carry firearms can prohibit them from doing so on their property by posting signs.

Cox has described the act as “an incremental step towards restoring our constitutional freedoms” and supporters have argued in committee hearings that the measure does little more than ask concealed weapons holders to “open their coats.”

“This is a bill that protects our Second Amendment rights, expands them and prevents overreach from the federal government and opens the ability to protect yourself,” Cox said last week.

Cox also is sponsoring House Bill 3096, this session’s version of the South Carolina Constitutional Carry Act that would allow the open carry of firearms by any gun owner. The bill, which has 35 co-sponsors, has not advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Both bills are opposed by state and local law enforcement officials who have testified against it in committee hearings. With Tuesday’s letter to lawmakers, faith leaders warned they will step up their campaign against the bills in the coming days and weeks.

“As faith leaders in our state, we know all too well the devastating consequences of gun violence, as we approach six years since a white supremacist murdered nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston,” read the letter, which includes among signatories the Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother, Ethel Lee Lance, was among the victims of the Mother Emanuel AME shooting.

Pastors and ministers from across the state, ranging from the Disciples United Methodist Church in Greenville to the Charity Mission Baptist Church in North Charleston and First Presbyterian Church of Myrtle Beach, signed the letter as part of an effort organized by South Carolina’s Moms Demand Action chapter to oppose the bills.

“Legislation such as HB 3094 would allow a person to openly carry a loaded handgun in sensitive areas like protests and demonstrations, playgrounds, and bars and other places that serve alcohol,” the letter read. “The day-to-day dangers of open carry are real. Families and businesses will be forced to decipher who is and is not a danger. Law enforcement will be forced to do the same.”

The faith leaders also warned that extremists, such as those who stormed the U.S. Capitol complex Jan. 6, would take advantage of open carry to target minorities.

“Open carry and permitless carry are exploited by anti-government extremists and white supremacists to intimidate the public,” the letter read. “Make no mistake, the events that engulfed the U.S. Capitol are only one example of the violent rhetoric that has been steadily increasing across the nation.”