‘I’m not apologizing’: Congressman defends decision to show gun during meeting
The S.C. Democratic Party has asked South Carolina's state police to investigate Rep. Ralph Norman pulling out a loaded gun during a meet-and-greet with constituents Friday in Rock Hill.
Norman said Monday, when he appeared at an Indian Land pharmacy, that the request from Democrats was nothing but politics.
Norman said he "did nothing wrong," "broke no laws," and "welcomes any police investigation."
The written request for an investigation was made by S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson. It was sent to SLED Chief Mark Keel, Clifton Weir, in charge of regulatory services for SLED, and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.
Democratic officials also asked 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett to file felony charges against Norman, a Rock Hill Republican, in connection with the incident.
Brackett, also a Republican, said late Monday that because he is a friend of Norman, he will not involve himself or his office in any decision to prosecute.
However, Brackett said, if it was up to him, he would not prosecute Norman because he does not believe he had any criminal intent when he put the gun on a restaurant table. Some have "reasonably questioned the wisdom" of Norman's actions, Brackett said, but it is not a crime.
"There was no criminal intent here, and the interpretation of the law is there must be," Brackett said Monday afternoon.
It is unclear if the State Law Enforcement Division will launch a probe. SLED will review and consider the request, said Thom Berry, SLED spokesman.
"We have received the request and are reviewing it," Berry said.
It is also unclear if the S.C. Attorney General's Office will seek a prosecution.
S.C. Democratic officials announced that they had sent the request for a SLED investigation Monday morning.
"Congressman Norman has important questions to answer for law enforcement and the people of the 5th district," Robertson said in a statement.
Robertson continued: "Does he feel it's appropriate to intimidate his constituents to make a point? Did the constituents in the meeting feel threatened? Do the members of his staff who were present and armed have (concealed weapons permits)? Does he always carry his weapon, as he claims, even where it is illegal to do so? Does he carry his weapon on Capitol Hill? Has he ever had it on federal property? Apparently, he feels that it is not enough to simply scare his constituents with his voting record, he also has to scare them with a loaded gun."
On Monday, Norman responded: "I didn't break any laws at all. I did it to prove a point."
Norman said he has "no regrets" over putting the gun on the table. "I welcome any challenges," Norman said. "Let 'em investigate all they want."
The incident at the Rock Hill Diner Friday morning has become a national news story and Norman's actions have drawn both criticism and support.
Norman carries a .38-Caliber Smith and Wesson handgun. He said he put the gun on the table during a meeting at a Rock Hill restaurant, as he was talking with a group called Mothers Demand Action.
"I did not break the law," Norman said. "I did not wave it. I did not brandish it. I didn't point it at anyone."
Norman said the media, specifically the Herald, used a connotation in the headline of Saturday's edition that implied he brandished the weapon. Norman said he did not brandish it or point it at anyone. He acknowledged that he pulled his gun out and put it on a table.
Norman, responding to questions from several media outlets, declined to apologize.
"I'm not apologizing," he said. "I did it to prove a point. Yes, it was the right thing to do."
Norman confirmed that the gun was loaded.
Asked if he would do what he did again, Norman did not say he would, but added that he had made his point.
At the Indian Land event, Norman said "nobody in this country is safe" and "everybody ought to carry a gun, if they get the training, to be safe."
Norman, Attorney General Wilson and Brackett are all Republicans.
In a response to Robertson Monday, Brackett said reports from the incident where Norman was meeting with constituents, and where gun control was a topic, show "everyone attending understood the purpose of his action and no one felt threatened or the need to summon the police."
"If a citizen were to walk into a diner, take a seat and place a gun on the table, it would no doubt evoke a different reaction from the wait staff when they came to take the order, and the citizen would have every reason to expect that he would be talking to an officer soon," Brackett wrote.
The context of the discussion shows there was no criminal intent, and if he were showed the case, he would use "common sense" and "exercise discretion" not to prosecute, Brackett said.
Brackett said Norman "should not be treated any better than others; he also should not be treated any worse."
Democrats had vowed, after the incident, to seek an investigation about whether Norman broke a law against pointing and presenting a firearm.
B.J. Barrowclough, York County deputy public defender, said that Norman's actions were illegal, and that his office often represents clients arrested for similar acts.
Norman, a first-term congressman who won the seat in a special election in 2017, said that he did not want to end up like Gabby Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in 2011.
A day after the event, Norman posted a Facebook message on his Rep. Ralph Norman page, "setting the record straight" on what happened.
Norman's statement calls Moms Demand Action a "group with a radical agenda, funded by out-of-state groups, and hell bent on repealing the Second Amendment and banning guns." That is a characterization that one group member present at the Rock Hill meet-and-greet said aren't true.
The message Norman posted also states he will "welcome and encourage the conversation of solving the problem of innocent lives taken, ensuring our children's safety in schools, improving background checks and addressing our country's mental health issue."
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald