Gun Laws in SC
For many of us in South Carolina, gun ownership is just a part of life – SC residents use guns for hunting, target practice, and home defense. Nearly half of SC residents are gun owners. and it is critical that gun owners understand the gun laws in SC to avoid an unintentional violation.
Below, we’ll look at questions that SC gun owners might have, including criminal offenses based on SC gun laws and possible defenses.
Who is permitted to own a gun under SC law, and what type of criminal convictions would prevent you from owning a gun?
If you own a firearm, is it legal to carry it? If so, when, where, and how is it legal to carry? Do gun laws in SC distinguish between handguns and long rifles? And, do federal gun laws affect me in SC?
Let’s start by looking at criminal offenses based on SC gun laws.
Gun Laws in SC – Firearms Offenses
SC has many laws that dictate who can own firearms and where they must be kept, but the most common criminal charges that we see involve: 1) Unlawful carrying of a handgun and 2) Unlawful possession of a handgun.
Unlawful Carrying of a Handgun
SC is not an “open carry” state, even for someone who has a CWP permit.
Under SC Code Section 16-32-20, it is illegal to carry a handgun in SC unless you fall within one of the many exceptions which include:
- Law enforcement officers;
- Reserve officers;
- On-duty military personnel;
- Members of shooting clubs traveling to and from target practice, shows, or exhibits;
- Hunters and fisherman traveling to and from the place where they are hunting or fishing;
- Firearms dealers during the ordinary course of their business;
- Federal guards authorized to carry;
- Military or civil organizations while parading or traveling to and from their meeting places;
- A person who is in their home, on their property, or has the permission of the person whose property they are on;
- A person in their vehicle;
- Prison guards;
- Business owners at their place of business;
- A person transferring their firearm to and from their vehicle and a location listed above where they can legally possess the firearm; or
- A person with a concealed weapon permit (CWP), subject to the restrictions on CWP holders in SC.
If you carry a handgun in your vehicle, it must be kept in a closed glove box, console, or trunk. On a motorcycle, it must be secured in a saddlebag or other closed container.
Under SC Code Section 16-23-50, unlawful carrying of a handgun is a misdemeanor that carries not more than one year in prison.
Unlawful Possession of a Handgun
Under SC Code Section 16-23-30, it is illegal for certain persons to possess a handgun in SC or to attempt to get a handgun.
It is also illegal for any person “to knowingly sell, offer to sell, deliver, lease, rent, barter, exchange, or transport for sale into this State any handgun” to the same group of persons, which includes:
- Any person who has been convicted of a “crime of violence;”
- A “fugitive from justice;”
- A habitual drunk or drug addict;
- A person who has been declared mentally incompetent;
- Any person under the age of 18 (with some exceptions);
- A member of a “subversive organization;” or
- A person deemed unfit to carry a firearm by a circuit court judge.
You can be deemed unfit to possess or carry a firearm by the circuit court, but you must be given notice and “a proper hearing” first.
It’s also illegal under gun laws in SC to possess or sell a gun that is stolen or a gun from which the serial numbers have been removed.
Unlawful Possession of a Firearm
Although 16-23-30 makes it a crime to possess handguns under certain circumstances, SC Code Section 16-23-500 also makes it a crime to possess any firearm, including hunting rifles, if you have been convicted of a violent crime as defined in SC Code Section 16-1-60, if the crime is also a felony.
Any of the unlawful possession offenses are felonies that carry a potential sentence of up to five years in prison.
What is a “Crime of Violence” for Purposes of Gun Laws in SC?
SC Code Section 16-23-10 defines a “crime of violence” as:
- Manslaughter (but not negligent manslaughter arising from an automobile accident);
- Assault with intent to kill, rape, or rob;
- Assault with a dangerous weapon; or
- Assault with intent to commit any crime punishable by more than one year.
A conviction for a “crime of violence” prohibits you from possessing a handgun, which does not necessarily include long rifles used for hunting.
Note that this is different from the statutory definition of “violent crimes” that is found in SC Code Section 16-1-60 – a conviction for a violent crime listed in 16-1-60 that is also a felony results in prohibition of possessing any firearm.
Domestic Violence and Gun Laws in SC
Use of a firearm during an incident of domestic violence is an aggravating factor that may increase the penalty for a domestic violence conviction.
SC Code Section 16-25-30 contains additional prohibitions against possession of firearms when a person:
- Has been convicted of domestic violence first degree or high and aggravated;
- Has been convicted of domestic violence second or third degree and the judge ordered that they are prohibited from possessing a firearm; or
- Is under an order of protection from the family court and the judge ordered that they are prohibited from possessing a firearm.
The prohibition following a conviction may be for life, ten years, or three years depending on the nature of the domestic violence conviction.
But, that may not matter because federal law prohibits possession of a firearm for life after a person has been convicted for any domestic violence related offense…
Federal Gun Laws
18 USC Section 922(g) makes it illegal to possess any firearm or ammunition if they:
- Have been convicted of a crime that is punishable by more than one year (note that unlawful carry under the SC gun laws has a maximum sentence of not more than one year, so a conviction should not prevent you from owning a firearm under federal law);
- Are a fugitive from justice;
- Are an unlawful user of or addicted to controlled substances;
- Have been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
- Are an illegal alien or in the country on a nonimmigrant visa;
- Have been dishonorably discharged from the military;
- Have renounced their citizenship;
- Are subject to a restraining order for stalking or threatening an intimate partner or their child if there is a finding that the person is a credible threat to the partner or their child; or
- Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
What is a “Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence” for Purposes of 922(g)?
In 2009, the US Supreme Court held in U.S. v. Hayes that “assault and battery” is the same as “domestic violence” for purposes of 922(g) if the victim had a domestic relationship with the person who was charged.
Prior to this opinion, defense lawyers would often advise their domestic violence clients to plead guilty to the “reduced charge” of assault and battery to avoid the federal prohibition on gun possession.
This does not work – the federal courts will look to the incident reports or other charging documents to determine whether an “assault and battery” charge was actually a domestic violence incident.
Can I Get Back My Right to Own a Firearm or Handgun in SC?
If you receive a pardon in SC, all your civil rights are restored and penalties from the conviction are removed, which includes your right to own firearms and to hold a concealed weapons permit (CWP).
State and Federal Firearms Lawyer in Charleston, SC
Grant B. Smaldone is a state and federal criminal defense attorney in Charleston, SC who focuses his practice on criminal defense cases including firearms charges in all courts.
Call now at (843) 808-2100 or use our contact form online to talk to a SC criminal defense lawyer today.