Columbia, SC to roll back gun control amid state threats

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Some cities think they should pass gun control measures regardless of what rules the state may have in place. In South Carolina, for example, they have preemption. That means cities are forbidden from trying to have local gun control in place.

Columbia, South Carolina seemed to think that rule didn’t apply to them.

Now, they’re trying to roll back the gun control measures they passed so they don’t lose state funding.

Columbia will move forward with repealing a series of gun-control measures after bowing from a court fight with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson and not wanting a fight with state lawmakers who have the power to fund much-needed city projects.

Columbia, with the backing of then-Mayor Steve Benjamin, passed a series of gun ordinances in 2019 making it illegal to possess firearms within 1,000 feet of a school; allowing gun seizures from people under an extreme risk protection order, commonly known as a “red flag” law; and a rule that added buildings where homemade firearms known as “ghost guns” are constructed to be subject to the city’s nuisance laws.

Wilson sued the city in 2020, arguing that state law preempted local authority on the gun regulations. A Richland County judge sided with Wilson in 2021.

The City Council gave initial approval March 15 to roll back the gun rules in a split vote. Mayor Daniel Rickenmann and council members Aditi Bussells, Howard Duvall and Joe Taylor voted to repeal. Council members Tina Herbert, Ed McDowell and Will Brennan voted against taking the ordinances off of the books.

It seems some of the City Council objected to the idea that they lost the court case.

Of course, they did.

The confusion was because the city planned to appeal, but withdrew the appeal the day of the vote. However, that wouldn’t have changed matters in the least. Preemption laws have been upheld time and time again, so there’s no reason to believe South Carolina’s preemption law would have been an exception.

This leads us to what state lawmakers were considering to push the city back on the straight and narrow.

State Rep. Kirkman Finlay, a Columbia Republican and member of the House budget-writing committee, said he urged a city lobbyist and some council members to outright repeal the rules after the deferred vote or risk jeopardizing his ability to secure backing for $170 million the city requested from lawmakers for a number of projects.

At the top of the list is a $35 million request to fix train crossings that can snarl traffic around downtown.

Finlay has proposed a bill in the House that would allow the state to withhold money for municipalities that do not follow state law.

Frankly, it’s certainly an option that states should at least consider.

See, the problem with far too many preemption laws is that they lack any real teeth. A municipality can pass a gun control law and while it may be illegal, it can linger indefinitely for any number of reasons. Usually, it’s because private citizens lack standing to challenge such a measure unless they’ve been impacted–that often means “arrested”–and if the state opts not to do its job, you get quite the mess.

We’ve seen it happen in Pennsylvania, for example.

Threatening to withhold funding for various projects may be a good incentive to keep places like Columbia from trying to pass their own gun control measures.