Carrying Handguns in Vehicles in South Carolina
Despite what some folks may believe, there are still quite a few people that carry handguns in their vehicles. The question of legality arises regardless of whether you have a concealed weapons permit ("CWP").
In this article, I’m going to break down Section 16-23-20 and discuss the permissible ways to carry in a vehicle. Obviously there are other exceptions that apply such as the law enforcement exception and the hunting exception.
This article is written for the normal person inquiring about the legality of a handgun in a vehicle.
South Carolina Code Section 16-23-20
says “It is unlawful for anyone to carry about the person any handgun, whether concealed or not, except as follows, unless otherwise specifically prohibited by law:”
Subsection (9) provides the vehicle exception and allows a person to carry a handgun in a vehicle if the handgun is:
(a) 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; however, this item is not violated if the glove compartment, console, or trunk is opened in the presence of a law enforcement officer for the sole purpose of retrieving a driver's license, registration, or proof of insurance;
What does this mean?
It means that it is legal to carry a pistol as long as it is secured in a “closed glove compartment” or “closed console”. The handgun can be loaded or unloaded as long as it is secured in the glove compartment or console.
You can also carry in another “closed container secured by an integral fastener and transported in the luggage compartment of the vehicle.”
But what does this mean?
Generally, this means if you have an SUV, you can store the gun in the back as long as it is in a suitcase, closable bag, etc.
You can also have a handgun in the “closed trunk” of the car as well.
Improper Locations to Carry a Handgun
Many people that get arrested and charged with violating this statute make the mistake of having a handgun in 1 of 4 places. Under a seat, between the console and the driver’s seat, in the map pocket of the door, or in a pocket behind a front seat. All of these places are in violation of the statute and are illegal.
In Vehicle with a Valid CWP
(b) concealed on or about his person, and he has a valid concealed weapons permit pursuant to the provisions of Article 4, Chapter 31, Title 23;
Subsection (9)(b) addresses concealed carry in a vehicle with a CWP. Generally, law enforcement has been reasonable with folks who have a valid CWP.
However, note that the statute only allows for the weapon to be concealed “on or about his person.”
I would suggest that under a seat, in the map pocket, or stuffed between the seats may not be sufficient to rise to the level of “concealed on or about the person.”
Important: Even with a CWP, the handgun needs to be in the proper locations described above or “on or about” your person.
UPDATE: On February 11, 2014, the Law was amended:
Section 16-23-20(9)(a) of the 1976 Code, as last amended by Act 28 of 2007, is further amended to read:
(a) 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; however, this item is not violated if the glove compartment, console, or trunk is opened in the presence of a law enforcement officer for the sole purpose of retrieving a driver's license, registration, or proof of insurance.
If the person has been issued a concealed weapon permit pursuant to Article 4, Chapter 31, Title 23, then the person also may secure his weapon under a seat in a vehicle, or in any open or closed storage compartment within the vehicle's passenger compartment;
SC LEGIS 123 (2014), 2014 South Carolina Laws Act 123 (S.B. 308)
Carrying on a Motorcycle
Finally, subsection (16) discusses the exception for Motorcycles which seems to be pretty clear.
“Any person on a motorcycle when the pistol is secured in a closed saddlebag or other similar closed accessory container attached, whether permanently or temporarily, to the motorcycle.”
Remember, if you are going to carry in a vehicle, you must follow the laws in the state in which you are carrying. Also, know that there are other statutes that prohibit the possession of handguns, regardless of their placement. If you are in doubt about whether you can legally possess a pistol, you should consult an attorney.