SC gun group protests Richland County plans for new gun ordinance

A gun rights group is saying it may pursue legal action against Richland County if the county passes a new gun ordinance.

S.C. Carry, which normally advocates for gun rights at the state Legislature, is planning to send a letter to the county warning that any attempt to regulate guns at the county level would violate state law.

Dan Roberts, the group’s outreach director, said its board began drafting the letter on Tuesday, and plans to send it to the county in the next few weeks. He called the proposal a “virtue-signaling publicity stunt.”

“We’re strongly opposed to the idea on numerous grounds, not least because it’s clear in state law that it would violate state preemption (of local gun laws),” Roberts said.

The group is reacting to the decision by the county council on Tuesday to ask the county attorney to research what powers the county may have to regulate firearms under state law. The motion’s main sponsor, Councilman Jim Manning, said he believes the gun rights group should be in favor of the move.

“I hope they would be supportive of a county council researching what authority a county council has prior to acting,” Manning said.

He says the county is following in the footsteps of Columbia, which in 2017 became the first city to ban the use of bump stocks after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Bump stocks are devices that can modify a weapon to fire multiple rounds in quick succession, which have since been banned for most civilian uses in the U.S.

Depending on their attorney’s advice, Richland County could place limits on other items. Manning told The State this week his preference would be to ban the semi-automatic AR-15, if it were possible.

But Columbia’s bump-stock rule is still limited by state law. While the city banned the use of bump stocks on guns inside the city limits, it could not ban ownership of bump stocks outright.

Roberts points to a 2015 ordinance passed by Columbia that prohibited the carrying of firearms within 250 feet of the State House grounds. The temporary ordinance was passed in response to the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds, but a court later ruled the ordinance encroached on state law.

But Manning is confident anything the county ultimately passes will hold up to legal challenge.

“Anyone can test anything the government has done. That’s why we have a court system,” Manning said. “That’s why I love America, and I assume this group loves America too.”

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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.