SC CWP: Shall Issue or May Issue?

At first blush, you would expect that South Carolina has friendly gun laws. If you can own it Federally, you can own it here. You can carry in your car’s glove box without a permit. There are no state requirements to buy firearms and ammunition. We are a “shall issue” CWP state.

Or are we?

Shall Issue

“Shall issue” refers to states where the laws requires the issuance of a concealed weapons permit when the applicant qualifies. The hallmark of “shall issue” is the removal of discretion in the issuance process. An applicant cannot be denied a permit ‘just because’. If the applicant meets an objective standard, the administering agency must issue a CWP.

To fully appreciate the “shall issue” concept one should compare it to the “may issue” standard.

May Issue

“May issue” laws allow the agency responsible for issuing CWPs discretion to allow or deny an application. These laws are common in the Democrat strongholds of the north eastern and west coast states. In these states an applicant must have ‘good cause’ or a ‘justifiable reason’ to carry a gun.  In typical instances, whether an applicant meets this standard is left to the discretion of the local issuing authority such as the chief of police or sheriff.

Such ‘good cause’ standard is subjective at best, and California, as example, is rife with counties that issue very few CWPs while others issue them freely.

South Carolina

So we have a “shall issue” state, right? Well . . .  sort of.

S.C. Code Ann. § 23-31-215 (B) states clearly “If the fingerprint review and background check are favorable, SLED must issue the permit.” (emphasis added.) So far, so good.

But what is the “background check”? Well, it is in part a fingerprint background check. But it is also a sheriff recommendation. (“The sheriff within ten working days after notification by SLED may submit a recommendation on an application.” S.C. Code Ann. § 23-31-215(B).) And what is done with the Sheriff’s recommendation?

SLED must consider this recommendation. (“Before making a determination whether or not to issue a permit under this article, SLED must consider the recommendation provided pursuant to this subsection.” S.C. Code Ann. § 23-31-215(B).)

What does consideration mean in practice? SLED typically follows the sheriff’s recommendation. If the sheriff says an applicant is unfit, SLED doesn’t issue a CWP.

The Sheriff Recommendation

So what does the sheriff rely upon for his recommendation? That varies from sheriff to sheriff. Some take no position while others will give a negative recommendation for merely an arrest. The variation is wide, and many times applicants are caught off guard with a rejection. In reality, because of the latitude of review and lack of objective standards, the sheriff’s recommendation is subjective.

In my experience I have seen rejections for arrests, investigations, incident reports, convictions that have been expunged, and convictions pardoned. Sheriffs take the responsibility of issuing a CWP seriously, and they are not afraid to recommend against issuance when an applicant has a speckled past.

Because SLED follows sheriffs’ recommendations, and sheriffs set their own standards for who passes a background review, South Carolina has in effect a “may issue” standard.

What can be done if your application is rejected?

A CWP denial can be appealed. Sheriff rejections are tricky. Typically, the issue has to be addressed with the rejecting sheriff and the sheriff convinced to change his recommendation. Each sheriff has different requirements for an applicant to prove his qualifications. Of course the underlying concern will also affect how to address the rejection with both SLED and the sheriff. I have helped clients with very messy histories, and I understand the emotional impact of addressing past mistakes. I also understand the emotional impact of being denied. If you or someone you know needs help, let me assist in overturning a denial and acquiring a CWP.