South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson is pushing back against efforts by municipalities in the Palmetto State to unconstitutionally infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of their citizens. Or to put it another way, Wilson is enforcing the law of the land … and in this case, the explicit laws of the Palmetto State.
This news outlet has written frequently on so-called “gun control” efforts by Palmetto State municipalities in the past – including an article two months ago excoriating Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin for his repeated attempts to impose unconstitutional firearm restrictions on city residents. As we have argued on many occasions, stripping citizens of their ability to protect themselves is not going to make Columbia safer. The problem is Benjamin’s ongoing insistence on shortchanging core government functions like law enforcement in the name of speculative real estate boondoggles.
Oh, and the fact that his wife – S.C. circuit court judge DeAndrea Benjamin – and so many of her judicial colleagues keep putting violent criminals back on the streets in the name of “justice reform.”
Even if Benjamin’s attempted gun grabs were taking place against a backdrop of well-prioritized city spending and well-considered judicial decisions, though … they would still be illegal.
The S.C. Code of Laws (§ 23-31-510) explicitly prohibits municipalities in the Palmetto State from passing “any 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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In a letter to Benjamin dated December 3, 2019, Wilson references this provision – informing the mayor that “the regulation of firearms is one … area deemed by the Legislature to be beyond the reach of a municipality or county.”
“We have consistently interpreted this statutory provision to preempt firearm regulation by local governments across the board,” Wilson wrote.
Unfortunately, Benjamin and other Columbia politicians have “repeatedly” sought to enact precisely such regulations, Wilson continued – referring to the adoption of ordinances “which we have advised in previous opinions were preempted by state law and in violation of the Second Amendment.”
After warning Benjamin that continuing to pass such ordinances would invite lawsuits that the city could not win, Wilson gave the mayor an “out.”
“In an effort to uphold the rule of law and to ensure protection of taxpayers, this office strongly urges that these ordinances be repealed,” Wilson wrote. “The ordinances not only undermine state law, but undercut the Second Amendment. They are an open invitation to costly litigation for which the municipal taxpayers must pay.”
Here is a copy of Wilson’s letter …
Wilson’s letter to Benjamin was accompanied by a pair of new opinions from his office – one responding to a request from state representative Jonathon Hill and another responding to a request from state senator Ronnie Cromer and state representative Bill Hixon.
These two opinions (.pdf files here and here) address two recent gun ordinances approved by the city of Columbia – one establishing a restriction against carrying a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school and the other establishing a so-called “extreme risk” standard which would actually enable local law enforcement to seize the firearms of individuals who live within the city limits.
In both cases, Wilson’s office concluded (rightfully) that these ordinances would not stand up in court due to the explicit state-level prohibition against municipal or county firearm regulation.
In the case of the “extreme risk” standard, Wilson’s office took it a step further – asserting that the ordinance “seeks to circumvent the prohibition … by establishing a novel process to obtain a court order.”
“The city cannot establish a firearm removal system by municipal ordinance, and then somehow disclaim responsibility for the removal of the firearms pursuant to that ordinance,” Wilson wrote. “Additionally, the ordinance authorizes the involuntary removal of firearms merely on a finding of extreme risk, and does not require that any crime be committed or any arrest be made prior to ordering relinquishment.”
Such a removal constitutes an “unlawful firearm confiscation” per the terms of S.C. Code of Laws (§ 23-31-520), according to Wilson.
This news outlet appreciates Wilson’s defense of the Second Amendment (and state law governing the regulation of firearms). In our current age of increasingly left-leaning herd-think, many leaders shy away from their obligations under these laws – but Wilson is fulfilling them capably in this instance.
Hopefully the city of Columbia will heed his warning, but should it continue down its current path we certainly hope he will follow up with the decisive action such defiance would require.
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