South Carolina Attorney General Sues City Over Anti-Gun Ordinances

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posted on April 7, 2020
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Credit: South Carolina Attorney General Office

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson (R) filed a lawsuit Jan. 29 with the state Supreme Court against the city of Columbia over its anti-gun ordinances.

“We have consistently advised for almost three decades, since 1991, that state law preempts local regulation of firearms. These ordinances clearly violate the state law that prohibits local governments from passing any gun laws or ordinances that regulate the transfer, ownership, or possession of firearms,” said Wilson in a press release. “In this case, the Second Amendment is paramount and cannot be undercut.”

Wilson filed the lawsuit with the South Carolina Supreme Court and asked the court to hear the case in its original jurisdiction without having to work its way through the lower courts first. The attorney general said Columbia was first warned in 2015 that local gun ordinances were preempted by state law and that the city has continued to pass similar legislation since then.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin (D) responded to Wilson in his State of the City address later that same day and said the ordinances are not in violation of preemption. “The ordinances are in compliance with the state statute. We continue to believe that, and we’ll defend that… We believe the attorney general’s interpretation is incorrect,” said Benjamin.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office previously made clear that it was prepared to take legal action if the city did not repeal the ordinances.

“[A]s our office is sworn to uphold the constitutions of this state and of the United States, we are ready to take legal action if necessary to uphold state and federal laws,” said Robert Kittle, communications director for the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, in a Jan. 7 email to America’s 1st Freedom.

Of the three ordinances Wilson is challenging, two were passed on in September 2019 and Wilson’s office previously wrote to Benjamin in a Dec. 3, 2019 letter that the two ordinances were in violation of the state’s preemption statute. 

Benjamin responded to the attorney general’s letter and said that he “would like to respectfully disagree” with Wilson and the city’s laws are a “valid and necessary use of the City’s authority to protect its people.”

One of the ordinances prohibits the possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of a public or private school. The other ordinance allows for the seizure of firearms from those with an Extreme Risk Protection Order against them, otherwise known as a red-flag law. 

The third ordinance, passed in August 2019, prohibits homemade firearms that have no serial number, which the city labels as “ghost guns.” The attorney general’s office authored a legal opinion that, like the other two, this also violated preemption.

 

South Carolina’s preemption statute (section 23-31-510) states, “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.”

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