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S.C. lawmakers vote to allow concealed guns in restaurants

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - A measure allowing people with concealed-weapons permits in South Carolina to carry firearms into restaurants and bars that serve alcohol is headed to the desk of Governor Nikki Haley, a gun enthusiast who is expected to sign it.

The legislation passed in the state's House of Representatives on Thursday by a vote of 90-18 makes it a crime to drink alcohol while carrying a concealed weapon on those premises.

Restaurants and bars will still be allowed to post signs prohibiting firearms. In South Carolina, 229,310 people have permits to carry concealed guns.

"Those folks are law-abiding citizens who are trained," said Republican state Senator Sean Bennett, who sponsored the measure in his chamber, where it previously passed.

"Stopping in a restaurant to eat had gotten to be a problem," Bennett said. "What do they do with their weapon, how do they secure it in their vehicle, what about their safety in parking lots and streets?"

Permit holders face losing their concealed-weapon carrying rights for up to five years if they violate the law by drinking while they have their gun in a restaurant or bar.

Haley, a Republican seeking re-election this year and who last month said she got a semi-automatic pistol for Christmas, plans to sign the measure, a spokesman said.

"Governor Haley has and will always be a supporter of open-carry laws, and will sign any bill that doesn't restrict the rights of gun owners," said Haley spokesman Doug Mayer.

Critics of the legislation voiced concern about mixing guns and alcohol. Bennett said no one from the restaurant industry came forward during hearings to object to the legislation.

In interviews on Friday, several workers in restaurants across South Carolina said it would be impossible to tell if a gun-toting customer was drinking.

They said they planned to post signs barring patrons from bringing guns inside their businesses.

"Personally, I cannot believe they passed that," said Bill Barber, general manager of a bar and restaurant in Murrells Inlet, near Myrtle Beach, that caters to motorcycle riders. "I know they're not supposed to drink ... but we're surrounded by idiots in this world and some idiots carry guns."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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