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Jul 2015

Can Municipalities Tackle Gun Control?

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South Carolina State Flag with 9 DovesThe recent brutal shooting deaths of nine people who were participating in Bible study in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, has brought to light the way many states and municipalities manage their gun control laws. Mass shootings grab the nation’s attention, sparking discussion and debate about gun laws. This tragedy was no different; it has reopened the controversy surrounding the issue of citizens having the ability to carry firearms in places of worship. It also places a great burden on states and municipalities to protect their citizens. This is no easy task.

Each state is responsible for creating and enforcing its own laws regarding gun control and ownership, including regulations regarding concealing and carrying weapons.

Our government is structured in such a way that most power falls to the states, and this includes the writing and passage of gun laws. Each state is responsible for creating and enforcing its own laws regarding gun control and ownership, including regulations regarding concealing and carrying weapons. Some states hand over a portion, if not all, of this authority to municipalities, allowing them to craft their own gun laws in accordance with the needs and concerns of the local populace.

Handing over some degree of power to local governments enables states to deal with gun-related crime by permitting the passage of stronger laws in certain areas as opposed to having blanket laws statewide that may not speak to individual areas’ unique issues. A review of gun laws by state (source: NRA-ILA) reveals that several states hand off some degree of lawmaking power to their local governments whereas other states restrict or prohibit local input.

states-with-bad-gun-control

GunLawScoreCard.com ranks states based on their gun laws. The results show that most of the states with strong gun laws allow local authorities to have some degree of control. The theory in play here is that local governments tend know their populations better than those at the state level and are most knowledgeable about what areas are at risk, the demographics of their populations, and what local people will respond to in terms of laws, regulations and authority.

Local governments tend know their populations better than those at the state level

Returning to the recent tragedy in South Carolina, how does that state fit into this paradigm? In South Carolina, the state is the only level of government permitted to create laws pertaining to guns. According to S.C. Code Ann. § 23-31-510, “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; or (2) a landowner discharging a firearm on the landowner’s property to protect the landowner’s family, employees, the general public, or the landowner’s property….”.  However, there seem to be practical exceptions to this law, such as when a prohibition is included in an emergency ordinance.  The City of Columbia enacted an emergency ordinance when the flag was taken down at the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, prohibiting “…Weapons within a two hundred fifty (250’) foot area..” that was not contested.  In other states, like Pennsylvania, cities have enacted laws around stolen weapons but the legality of those ordinances in the face of state laws are unsure .

Could local governments in South Carolina and elsewhere effectively create laws to better manage areas with higher crime rates? More to the point, could local governments do a better job of creating laws that would be more applicable to their citizens and better ensure their safety, especially when it comes to carrying firearms into a place of worship?

Update: July 21, 10:40 a.m.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has deemed the City of Columbia’s emergency ordinance to be unconstitutional.  The ban, Wilson said, violates a law protected by both SC state law as well as the Second Amendment.  According to Wilson, local government is restricted from controlling firearms, per state statute.

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Karl McCollester
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Karl has a passion for local government, working closely with Cities and Counties on their technology strategies for over a decade. Karl fearlessly leads this crack-team as our President and CEO.

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Karl has a passion for local government, working closely with Cities and Counties on their technology strategies for over a decade. Karl fearlessly leads this crack-team as our President and CEO. "I love using technology and code to make people's lives better. I love hearing: 'Oh wow, we can do that?'"

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