The city of Columbia, South Carolina became one of the first cities in the nation to ban the use of bump stocks and trigger cranks this week, despite a state law that prohibits local gun regulations.
The city council passed an ordinance that makes it illegal to attach the devices to any guns in the city, except for those used by the military or law enforcement officers.
Wait, what? Why would law enforcement need bump stocks…
What Does the Columbia Bump Stock Ban Prohibit?
When you attach a bump stock to a gun, it allows you to fire dozens of rounds in seconds – more like illegal, fully automatic weapons – by harnessing the weapons’ natural recoil. It is believed that Stephen Paddock used a bump stock when he shot and killed dozens of people attending a concert in October in Las Vegas.
The Columbia ordinance does not make it illegal to own the devices, but it makes it a crime to attach the device to a gun. If a person owns a bump stock (that they can’t use under the ordinance), it must be stored in separate containers from firearms.
The ordinance was quickly targeted by critics, who point out that South Carolina law does not allow local governments to regulate firearms or firearm components. City leaders brushed off the criticism, saying the devices are attachments, not components.
Is the City of Columbia’s Bump Stock Ban a Valid Law?
The complex nature of the issue all but guarantees the ordinance will face legal challenges.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has called bump-stocks “firearm-parts.” The agency has responded to calls to regulate bump stocks by saying it has the power to regulate only devices that allow multiple bullets to fire with one trigger pull.
Bump stocks make a gun able to fire rapidly, but the shooter must pull the trigger repeatedly. Therefore, the ATF is declining to regulate them…
There are two reasons that the city ordinance will face legal challenges:
The South Carolina Constitution prohibits local municipalities from criminalizing conduct that is legal under state law.
For example, when Myrtle Beach enacted a “helmet law” requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, that law was unconstitutional and unenforceable because state law does not require helmets. SC law on this issue is well-established, and there are several appellate opinions that address it.
S.C. Code of Laws Section 23-31-510 specifically prohibits local municipalities from enacting regulations or ordinances that affect gun ownership:
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:
(1) the transfer, ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms, ammunition, components of firearms, or any combination of these things…
Columbia City Council is saying that the law does not apply to them because bump stocks are “attachments,” not “components.” I’m not sure the Supreme Court will agree with them, and the argument over the definition of “component” has no effect on the constitutionality of the ordinance, anyway (see #1 above).
What About Horry County’s New Gun Law?
Horry County Council recently passed an ordinance prohibiting the firing of guns and similar weapons in the county between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The ordinance also makes it illegal to shoot a gun on county property controlled by Horry County Parks and Recreation, except during an authorized event, or firing a gun in a way that is “reckless.”
The Horry County gun law doesn’t seem to be in violation of Section 23-31-510, as it does not affect “the transfer, ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms, ammunition, [or] components of firearms,” but it does criminalize conduct that was not otherwise criminal under SC state laws (see #2 above).
Horry County and Myrtle Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have been charged under the new Horry County gun law, I believe we can challenge the ordinance on constitutional grounds although the SC Supreme Court will most likely have to decide the issue.
If you have been charged with a gun crime in Myrtle Beach, Conway SC, or the Horry County area, call me at (843) 492-5449 or fill out our online contact form to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.