Richland County may tighten gun rules — if state law allows

At a time of frequent mass shootings nationally, can local governments do anything to prevent gun violence?

In South Carolina, Richland County is the latest government to ask the question. County Councilman Jim Manning is asking the county attorney to “determine all authority that South Carolina counties have to create gun safety ordinances,” according to a motion Manning filed for Tuesday’s county council meeting.

Manning says he wants to be sure the county is on firm legal ground before it takes any action on guns, but he knows what he would like to do.

“I’d like to ban AR-15s,” Manning said, referring to the semi-automatic style rifle that’s been used in several high-profile shootings in recent years.

“Because in my opinion, they’re made for the military and law enforcement,” Manning continued. “And we don’t need those in our county or our country except from people who are trained, authorized and overseen by the military, the Department of Defense or law enforcement.”

But state law in South Carolina reserves most of the power to regulate guns to the state. In 2017, Columbia passed a ban in the capital city on the use of bump stocks — a device that can modify a weapon to fire multiple rounds in quick succession. Bump stocks were criticized as a way to get around the ban on fully automatic weapons. They have since been banned for most civilian uses in the U.S. after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting killed 58 people.

But the city could only ban the use of bump stocks. Ownership was still allowed, although the city ordinance required they be stored separately from firearms. The county passed a similar ban in 2018, also introduced by Manning.

That’s why Manning — who hastens to add that he has a concealed weapons permit — is asking for research before he moves forward.

“I don’t want to waste time on something state law doesn’t allow us to do,” he said.

Council Chairman Paul Livingston said the county could do something similar with high-capacity magazines, for instance, depending on the county attorney’s advice.

“I think some council members would be interested in doing what they have the authority to do,” Livingston said.

The move comes after a student at Cardinal Newman School withdrew this summer after videos circulated of the student firing a gun while making racist comments. That led Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin to propose city ordinances that would allow Columbia police to confiscate firearms from gun owners who are deemed to be an “extreme risk” and tighten restrictions on guns near schools. He’s also pushing a city hate crimes ordinance that received initial approval on Aug. 20.

Richland County sheriff’s deputies confiscated several guns from the home of the Cardinal Newman student, who was charged with making threats to a school. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott later closed the case without bringing charges against anyone else involved with the video.

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.