‘They’re not going to take my gun’: Bill would exempt S.C. from federal regulations

The Twin Ponds Rifle Range in the Francis Marion National Forest was filled with a variety of firearms Thursday, including an AR-15 (foreground), made in South Carolina, being shot by Alex Hendry. Buy this photo

The AR-15 military-style rifle that 18-year-old Alex Hendry fired Thursday at the Twin Ponds Rifle Range is smack in the cross hairs of a nationwide uproar over regulating “assault rifles” in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

By the numbers

4,679,230

U.S. Census 2011 estimated population of South Carolina.

186,916

Concealed-weapon permits in the state.

Unknown

Number of firearms permits in the state. Federal law prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from assembling that record.



State Law Enforcement Division; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Census

It also is at the crux of a debate that awaits the 2013 General Assembly. Why? It was made in South Carolina.

10th Amendment

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the Powers of the State and the People amendment. It reads:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

A state lawmaker wants to exempt South Carolina from federal regulation of firearms, ammunition or accessories made in the state.

For more info

Click here to read state and federal firearms laws.

The Firearms Freedom Act, filed by Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, is similar to bills that already have been approved in eight states, filed in 40 others, and are being challenged in court by the U.S. District Attorney.

Seemingly a throwback to states’ rights and secessionist politics, the bill has ramifications for a number of companies in the state that make everything from AR-15s to ammunition and equipment like scopes, as well as more private, custom hunting-rifle builders.

“We have the capability in South Carolina to do what we want” as far as manufacturing firearms, said Dale Hanna, a gunsmith with East Coast Guns in Summerville.

Hendry, of Mount Pleasant, isn’t fazed by the gun rights uproar. The Palmetto-State-Armory-built rifle he owns was among a few he brought to the Awendaw range.

He doesn’t have a problem with taking precautions to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and he doesn’t think it’s a bad idea to require people buying a gun to take a class to learn how to use it.

But restricting military-style rifles is restricting rifles because they are scary-looking, he said. There are traditional-looking semi-automatic rifles that have the same shooting capability.

“If a minority of people do something stupid, it shouldn’t affect the majority of the people,” he said. He likes the idea that if the federal government tries to take away the South Carolina-made rifles, “we’ll be grandfathered in,” he said. “If something happens, they’re not going to take my gun.”

The firearms freedom bills are among a number of state efforts to argue that the “Powers of the State and People” 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from overriding state powers, part of a grassroots and well-funded interest-group movement to curtail federal powers.

Bright’s bill was first filed last year in response to Montana’s 2009 bill, he said. But with the rampage shooting of 20 elementary schoolchildren and seven adults in Newtown this month, its refiling shocked some people, he said.

For him, it’s a 10th Amendment issue, not a reaction to the wide concern among shooting enthusiasts about federal legislative moves under way to restrict their right to own guns.

For Hanna, a longtime gunsmith, that’s just what the bill is about.

“It takes control of firearms out of the federal government,” he said. The gun-restriction moves are coming from legislators in places like New York and California, he said.

Maybe a military-style rifle like the AR-15 isn’t needed in Los Angeles or New York City, but he lives in the country, where coyotes and bobcats plague his chicken coops. “You’re not going to find a better varmint gun than an AR-15. We need to control our own laws and firearms, and we know our own needs better than someone in Los Angeles or New York.”

Gov. Nikki Haley posted on social media Thursday that she has a concealed-weapon carry permit and supports the “right to bear arms” Second Amendment, as well as the 10th. And there is sure to be support for Bright’s bill among the largely conservative, generally pro-hunting legislators and lobbies.

It likely will be “rigorously debated” in the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, who supports it as a 10th Amendment issue. But the Legislature has a number of hot-button issues up for debate in the term starting in January, Grooms said, that could keep it off the top shelf of issues.

“The session starts, and then public sentiment tends to drive bills,” Bright said. “We’ll see what the public does.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.

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