Where can I carry a pistol in my car is a common question I hear. As always, the first answer is it depends. State laws affect this right greatly, and for this article we will focus only on South Carolina law. It also makes a difference whether you have a Concealed Weapons Permit or the equivalent in SC.
Vehicle Carry without a CWP
Without a CWP you can carry a concealed handgun, loaded if you like, but it must be “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.” SC Code Ann. 16-23-20 (9)(a). In the case of the glove compartment and console the firearm is accessible to you, and this is explicitly allowed by the law. In the case of the trunk or another container the firearm will be in the luggage compartment and theoretically out of your reach.
Two asides to this general rule are worth noting. First, nothing herein overrides the general prohibition of carrying firearms on school grounds and the grounds of the Statehouse Capital. If you will be parking your vehicle on either, and you do not have a CWP, you cannot have a firearm in the vehicle.
Second, you may open “the glove compartment, console, or trunk . . . in the presence of a law enforcement officer for the sole purpose of retrieving a driver’s license, registration, or proof of insurance” without violating the laws relating to the carrying of handguns. So if you are stopped and asked for your registration, which is stored with your handgun, notify the officer first of the handgun and its presence with the papers and ask for his directions on retrieving it. Some officers will retrieve the document themselves, others will let you retrieve it under their watch, and some will decide to go without. (Remember both of you have the same goal: not being shot!)
Vehicle Carry with a CWP
A CWP recognized in South Carolina will provide you with additional locations and means to carry.
First, with a CWP, a person can have firearms in his vehicle while on school grounds or the Statehouse Capital. Both of these are specific exemptions that are worthy of examination in their on right. For our purposes, we’ll just note the allowances exist and will leave the specific limitations to a later article.
Second, with a CWP a person may also carry a handgun “under a seat in a vehicle” or “in any open or closed storage compartment within the vehicle’s passenger compartment.” SC Code Ann. 16-23-20 (9)(a). Beneath the seat is easily understood, but the exception for any open or closed storage compartment is much broader. This is a recent amendment to the statute, and case law is lacking. Arguably, any compartment, pocket, or container built into the vehicle would be usable for the storage of a handgun whether or not it closes or is closed. This extends the carry area from the glove box and console to door pockets, compartments within the dash, and other cubbies within the vehicle designed for the storage of luggage. Because this exception is by the person, I believe it is prudent to use pockets nearest the CWP holder.
While the statute does not clearly state, I believe that the storage compartment must be integral to the vehicle. This would prevent you from bolting on a holster to create a special storage compartment for the handgun. (Though nothing would prevent the factory from doing so.)
South Carolina allows ample places for CWP and Non-CWP holders alike to carry a handgun in their vehicle. Without a CWP, your loaded firearm is limited to the glovebox, console, and luggage compartment. With a CWP, you can store a handgun under the seat or in another convenient compartment.
If you intend to take your vehicle, with firearm, to a controlled environment such as school grounds or the Statehouse Capital, you should familiarize yourself with the specific restrictions and exemptions contained within those sections of law.
If you have been charged with a violation of carrying a handgun illegally, give my offices a call as soon as possible to determine your rights and the best defense available to you.