South Carolina AG Steps In To Block Local Gun Control Laws

South Carolina law prohibits local governments from passing their own gun control measures, but that hasn’t stopped city council members and the anti-gun mayor of the state capitol of Columbia from attempting to impose their own gun laws on residents. Last year, Democrats in control of local government approved several local ordinances dealing with firearms, including a local “red flag” firearms seizure law and a measure that declares any “structure, device, or location” used to manufacture or store so-called “ghost guns” to be a public nuisance, and now South Carolina’s attorney general is asking a court to declare the local laws invalid.

In a filing in Richland County Common Pleas Court earlier this week, AG Alan Wilson argues that all of the measures run afoul of South Carolina’s firearms preemption statute and should be struck down. From the Post and Courier:

Wilson has continued to argue that, with few exceptions, state law — not city or county regulations — takes precedence in regard to firearm regulations in South Carolina.

It’s an argument again made in the Aug. 11 motion filed by the attorney general, in which he cites a section of state law that says, “no governing body of any county, municipality, or other political subdivision in the state may enact or promulgate any regulation or ordinance that regulates or attempts to regulate: The transfer, ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms, ammunition, components of firearms or any combination of these things.”

The motion also cites a section of law that says that cities and counties in the Palmetto State do not have “the power to confiscate a firearm or ammunition unless incident to an arrest.”

It’s pretty clear that the ordinances in Columbia violate the state statute that prohibits local governments from imposing their own gun control restrictions. In fact, I suspect that Mayor Steve Benjamin and the gun control advocates on the city council pushed ahead with their local laws knowing full well that they’re not in compliance with state law.

Gun control advocates have been encouraging mayors to do exactly what Mayor Benjamin has done, and are often promising to pick up the legal fees if a city will defend their local gun laws in court. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s launched a similar challenge in Pennsylvania, while several local officials in Florida are attempting to overturn that state’s law that allows citizens to sue officials who approve local gun control ordinances in violation of the state firearms preemption language.

So far, those local officials haven’t gotten very far in their quest to have the courts declare firearms preemption laws invalid. Peduto’s ordinances were tossed out by a judge last year, though the city is appealing. In Florida, a state judge ruled that the state legislature can declare that localities can’t pass their own gun laws, but added that the legislature can’t allow for sanctions against those lawmakers who decide to violate preemption law. A Florida appeals court heard the case earlier this summer, and based on the oral arguments at the time, it seems likely that the local lawmakers are going to lose the argument when the court releases its decision later this year.

During arguments in the case Tuesday, Edward Guedes, a lawyer who represents the elected officials, told a three-judge panel of the appellate court that Dodson’s ruling should be upheld, in part because local governments are entitled to “absolute legislative immunity” when acting in their official capacity.

“We are at a very important threshold, that once we cross it, local democracy becomes meaningless,” Guedes said.

But Judge Brad Thomas appeared unconvinced.

“Let’s go back to my hypothetical, where the local government knowingly passes an ordinance in violation of state law, imposes a 60-day potential jail time on a citizen, a citizen is arrested and put in jail under a county ordinance that was clearly preempted. Does the Legislature not have the right to prevent that kind of evil?” he asked.

“Not at the expense of constitutional principles,” Guedes replied.

That’s insane, but it’s also what passes for logic among the anti-gun crowd. They’re willing to ignore one set of laws in order to impose their own set of laws that will in turn be ignored.

Though Columbia’s local gun ordinances have been on the books since 2019, I’m not aware of any attempt to arrest or charge any resident with a violation. I reached out to the Columbia Police Department to ask if they’ve used the “red flag” ordinance to seize anyone’s firearms, but as of the time of publication I have not received a response (I’ll update this story if and when I do). I also haven’t found any news stories about a home or business being declared a nuisance after a homemade and unserialized firearm was discovered.

Ironically, while Mayor Benjamin declared that these local ordinances were desperately needed, it appears like they haven’t actually been used since he signed them into law. If these local ordinances were so important to protect the public safety in Columbia, you’d think someone would have been charged, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case. For now, anyway, it looks like the passage of the city’s local gun laws was meant to garner headlines, not actually reduce crime.