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South Carolina Gun Control Laws

Both state and federal governments struggle to respond to crime. This includes gun violence. One of the most horrific mass shootings in the U.S. occurred in Charleston, South Carolina at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. A 21-year-old, self-proclaimed white supremacist shot and killed nine church members at a Bible study meeting after going there with the intent to commit a hate crime.

After such tragedies, legislators in some states review their gun laws and try to reach a consensus on changes that could prevent gun crimes in the future. Striking a balance between public safety and the rights of gun owners can be a challenging task. 

Despite proposals for new legislation, changes to federal law have been few and far between. At the state level, it can depend on the politics of the state. Sometimes compromise may be found on gun safety initiatives but not on larger, more sweeping legislation.

Federal law regulates the ownership and use of certain dangerous weapons, such as machine guns and devices like bump stocks, which cause semi-automatic rifles to fire like fully automatic weapons. 

The federal government licenses firearms dealers. It also prohibits certain categories of persons from possessing a gun, including felons and those using illegal drugs.

South Carolina Gun Statutes

States can craft gun control laws that limit the purchase, possession, and use of firearms. In general, South Carolina lawmakers support gun rights over gun regulations. They point to the Second Amendment right to bear arms as a key limitation on firearm restrictions.

Recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have interpreted the Second Amendment as providing an individual right to own guns for self-defense and other lawful purposes. As a result, gun rights advocates have brought more Second Amendment challenges to state and federal gun regulations.

South Carolina does not require a permit or license to purchase or own a firearm. The state has no waiting period for prospective gun buyers. Like other states, it does set forth certain prohibitions on gun possession.

For years, South Carolina has required those wanting to carry a concealed firearm to obtain a concealed weapons permit (CWP) in most circumstances. Exceptions included carrying a firearm on your property, at your place of business, or for hunting. 

In 2024, the state legislature is considering bills to abandon this requirement. If South Carolina enacts a permitless carry law, individuals could carry a concealed handgun without first getting a permit and passing a criminal background check. 

States with permitless carry laws, sometimes called constitutional carry laws, operate on the honor system. They presume that citizens know when the law prohibits them from having a gun and will only carry one legally. Once a state moves to permitless carry, it keeps its state permit process so that permit-holders can benefit from reciprocity in other states.

South Carolina residents or non-residents who own property in South Carolina can apply for a CWP. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) handles both first-time and renewal applications. 

South Carolina is a "shall issue" state, which means that it must issue a CWP to anyone who meets the objective criteria in state law. At present, that includes being at least 21 years old, providing proof of firearms safety training, and not falling into a prohibited category. Even those with a CWP must comply with state law that prohibits firearms in certain locations. 

In South Carolina, you cannot bring a gun into the following places:

  • Law enforcement, correctional, or detention facility
  • Courthouse or courtroom
  • Polling place on election days
  • Office of or the business meeting of the governing body of a county, public school district, municipality, or special purpose district
  • School or college athletic events not related to firearms
  • Daycare or preschool facility
  • Places where carrying of firearms is prohibited under federal law
  • Church or other established religious sanctuary unless given express permission from the appropriate official(s)
  • Hospital, medical clinic, doctor's office, or other facility where medical services or procedures occur unless authorized by employer
  • Places marked with clear signage prohibiting the carrying of a concealable weapon on the premises, except when given express written consent by the property owner or their agent

South Carolina prohibits firearms in public or private schools, colleges, universities, and publicly-owned buildings unless you have the express permission of the authorized persons in charge.

South Carolina also regulates the carrying of guns in a motor vehicle. Passengers cannot carry a firearm onto a bus or other form of public transportation. You cannot carry a handgun in a motor vehicle unless you have a CWP or you meet one of several exceptions. Some of the exceptions include:

  • Being a licensed hunter or fisherman
  • Transporting an unloaded handgun in a secure wrapper after purchase
  • Moving it to a new residence or place of business

You may also secure a handgun in a vehicle in a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk, or closed container in the luggage compartment of the vehicle.

Overview of South Carolina Gun Control Laws

The chart below highlights key provisions of South Carolina's gun control laws.

Relevant South Carolina Gun Control Statutes (Laws)

South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 16, Crimes and Offenses — Chapter 23, Offenses Involving Weapons — Sections 16-23-10 through 16-23-780

  • Unlawful carrying of handgun - Section 16-23-20
  • Sale or delivery of handgun to and possession by certain persons unlawful; stolen handguns - Section 16-23-30
  • Penalties; disposition of fines; forfeiture and disposition of handguns - Section 16-23-50
  • Unlawful transportation of machine gun, military firearm, or sawed-off shotgun or rifle within State - Section 16-23-220
  • Unlawful storing, keeping, or possessing of machine gun, military firearm, or sawed-off shotgun or rifle - Section 16-23-230
  • Unlawful sale, rental, or giving away of machine gun, military firearm, or sawed-off shotgun or rifle - Section 16-23-240
  • Penalties - Section 16-23-260
  • Possession of firearm on school property; concealed weapons - Section 16-23-420
  • Carrying concealed weapons - Section 16-23-460
  • Additional penalty for unlawfully carrying pistol or firearm onto premises of business selling alcoholic liquor, beer, or wine for on-premises consumption; exceptions - Section 16-23-465
  • Additional punishment for possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime - Section 16-23-490
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm by a person convicted of violent offense - Section 16-23-500
  • Use, transport, manufacture, possess, purchase, or sale of teflon-coated ammunition - Section 16-23-520
  • Firearms; possession by or sale to unlawful alien - Section 16-23-530

Title 23, Law Enforcement and Public Safety — Chapter 31, Firearms — Sections 23-31-10 through 31-31-1060

Illegal Arms

In South Carolina, unless you comply with federal law, you cannot possess the following firearms under state law:

  • Machine guns
  • Sawed-off shotguns
  • Sawed-off rifles
  • Military firearms
State law also prohibits possession of the following:
  • Teflon-coated ammunition
  • Handguns with the original serial number removed or obliterated

Waiting Period

There is no waiting period to purchase a gun in South Carolina.

Who May Not Own

The following persons may not own or possess a handgun in South Carolina:
  • Those convicted of a crime of violence
  • A fugitive from justice
  • A habitually drunk person
  • A drug addict
  • A person adjudicated mentally incompetent
  • A person who is a member of a subversive organization
  • A person who is under 18 years of age
  • A person a circuit court has adjudged unfit to carry or possess a firearm

State law also prohibits persons convicted of a violent felony offense from possessing any firearm or ammunition.

There are other categories of prohibited persons under federal law.

License Required?

No. A license is not required to own a gun in South Carolina.

Concealed Carry License Required?

Yes. At present, South Carolina requires individuals to have a concealed weapon permit (CWP) to carry a concealed weapon. There are exceptions to the permit requirement, including licensed hunters while engaged in hunting and law enforcement officers.

Open Carried Allowed?

Yes. At present, only those with a CWP can also open carry a handgun.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

A person is eligible for a concealed carry permit in South Carolina if they:

  • Are a state resident or a nonresident who owns real property in South Carolina
  • Are 21 years of age or older
  • Are not prohibited by state law from possessing the weapon
  • Complete and sign the application
  • Submit a photocopy of their driver's license or another acceptable form of photo identification card
  • Have proof of actual or corrected vision rated at 20/40 within six months of the date of application or a valid South Carolina driver's license
  • Have proof of firearm training
  • Submit a complete set of fingerprints
  • Pass a criminal background check

Machine Gun Laws

It is unlawful to transport or possess a machine gun in South Carolina unless authorized under federal law.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

South Carolina's penalties for illegal firearm possession vary.

  • Illegal possession of a handgun is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
  • Unlawful carrying of a handgun is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
  • Possessing a machine gun, military firearm, sawed-off shotgun, or sawed-off rifle is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
  • Possessing a firearm with a prior conviction for a violent felony is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.
  • Possessing Teflon-coated ammunition is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

It is illegal to possess a firearm on premises or property owned by a private or public school, college, technical college, or university without the express permission of the authorities in charge. There can be exceptions for firearms secured in motor vehicles. Illegal possession of school grounds is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Red Flag Law?

No. South Carolina does not have a red flag law.

Universal Background Checks?

No. South Carolina does not require a criminal background check on private sales or transfers by individuals.

Stand Your Ground Law?

Yes. A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is attacked in a place they have a right to be has no duty to retreat. They may stand their ground and meet force with force. This includes the use of deadly force if they reasonably believe it necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury or to prevent the commission of certain violent crimes.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of the state law(s) you are reviewing.

Research the Law

Learn More About South Carolina Gun Control Laws

Everyone has different circumstances, and state laws change. As state gun laws vary, the law in South Carolina may differ from the law in North Carolina on a given matter. 

If you have questions about your compliance with gun laws in the state of South Carolina, consider consulting with an attorney licensed in South Carolina. An attorney can also represent you if you are charged with a crime or if you want to recover a seized gun.

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