SUMMERVILLE — A drive for a voter referendum to ban “some assault weapons” in town is under way, community activist Louis Smith told Town Council on Wednesday, to no council response and the modest applause of two or three people in the audience.

The referendum would seek to ban gun shows in town as well, and strengthen background checks to purchase guns.

Nearly 4,000 signatures from among about 25,000 registered voters are needed by May 1 to get the question on the November town election ballot. And getting it approved won’t be easy in a community where people cherish the gun-ownership tradition, are quick to argue for the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and where firearms sales surged last month amid fears that federal gun-ownership restrictions would be put in place.

Despite concern raised by the December mass shooting of elementary schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., sentiment in the Lowcountry and the state remains strongly and sometimes vehemently against restrictions on gun ownership.

Smith conceded before he spoke to council that he was not aware of the emotion surrounding the issue until he began talking about the petition.

To council, he quoted the Democratic Party national platform recognizing the gun-ownership tradition and the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but saying it allows for “reasonable regulations.”

The initiative came from a coalition representing the Robynwyn and Palmetto Place neighborhoods. The language hasn’t been finalized, but Smith said it would be modeled on a national ban called for by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

That pending bill calls for banning the sale or possession of semi-automatic weapons with detachable magazines holding more than 10 rounds as well as other weapon types.

Smith said he has already heard from people about the difficulty to get a referendum like that passed.

“Yes, we are going through with this. I am trying to make this become a civilized debate” and have the voters decide, he said. “We need to get started getting guns off the street.”

The coalition assembled more than 1,000 signatures on a petition after a driveway shooting in the Robynwyn neighborhood late last year. The petition led to the town’s first community alert system, designed to let people in an affected area know immediately by text or email in violence or another emergency erupts in that area.

Eight states have passed bans of military-style rifles or pistols; three others regulate them, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Burlington, Vt., a city nearly the population size of Summerville, has passed a resolution calling for a ban on “assault rifles and high-capacity magazines,” according to CNN.

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