Local law enforcement officials are leery of a bill to allow South Dakotans to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
That measure, House Bill 1248, passed the Legislature Tuesday and awaits Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s signature or veto.
If Daugaard signs the law, many South Dakotans will bypass a layer of bureaucracy, including a background check and a small fee, before being able to carry a concealed weapon.
Anyone with a valid South Dakota driver’s license who isn’t disqualified from carrying a concealed weapon – including convicted felons, people with a “history of violence” and people with mental illness – will be able to carry a concealed weapon without the permit.
Permits still will be available for people who want one. Many other states recognize South Dakota concealed weapon permits as valid, and travelers would need a permit in order to carry concealed weapons those states. If the bill is signed into law, it would make South Dakota the fifth state to not require a concealed carry permit. Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming don’t require permits to carry concealed weapons.
The bill also won’t change where people are allowed to carry a weapon. It will still be against the law to possess a firearm inside a courthouse or to possess a loaded firearm while intoxicated.
Federal laws requiring background checks for people buying firearms also would be unaffected.
Supporters say it is a matter of giving citizens their freedoms.
“I believe this simply restores some of the constitutional rights of the citizens of South Dakota, the law-abiding citizens,” said Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center.
Rapid City Police Chief Steve Allender worries the law will make life harder – and possibly more dangerous – for police.
“When we find a gang member carrying a concealed gun, it will be up to the police officer to conduct a background check on the spot to see if that gang member qualifies under the new law to carry a concealed pistol,” Allender said. “I think it’s a very awkward and poorly constructed legislation.”
Allender and Pennington County State’s Attorney Glenn Brenner both hope Daugaard vetoes the bill.
“I’m very much in favor of legitimate people being allowed to carry a firearm,” Brenner said.
But the bill is “going to inconvenience law enforcement and take a patrol deputy or patrol police officer that otherwise could be working on something else,” Brenner said. “He’ll be tied up trying to verify whether this is a legitimate carry.”
The Pennington and Meade county sheriffs aren’t big fans of the bill, but don’t see major downfalls, either.
“It’s going to probably create some confusion for the public, but otherwise I don’t think it’s going to do anything for us,” said Ron Merwin, the Meade County sheriff.
Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom said public education will still be needed to clear up who is and isn’t allowed to carry a concealed weapon.
“Some people are going to be under the impression that if they have a valid South Dakota driver’s license, they can carry a weapon concealed, which is true, except that the current law still stays in place,” Thom said.
If the bill does go into effect, Thom predicted most gun owners would still get concealed carry permits.
“I don’t think we’re going to see a big dip in the number of people getting pistol permits, because I think the majority of people are going to want to carry a gun across state lines,” Thom said.
Last year, Thom’s office issued more than 2,600 new and renewed concealed carry permits, but denied 130 applications.
Rhoden said constitutional rights trump any argument for leaving control with local law officials.
“When in doubt, give us our rights,” Rhoden said.
Daugaard is uncertain whether he will sign the bill. He said Wednesday that he has yet to examine it closely. The governor has just over two weeks to sign or veto the law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or email@example.com