A vote calling on the state to ban certain guns drew so much heat on two Charleston County Council members that they changed their votes retroactively so the public record now says they were against it.
The resolution was supported by seven Council members on July 14, and none voted against it. But then the calls started coming. On Tuesday, Council Chairman Elliott Summey and Councilman Herb Sass moved to change their positions after the fact.
Gun rights advocates have called the county taking a stand on the issue a pointless display. “I think it’s a ridiculous resolution,” said James Overby, 1st Congressional District director for Gun Owners of South Carolina.
The resolution was initially approved after the sponsor, Councilman Henry Darby, showed council members images of machine guns firing hundreds of rounds and photographs of gory gunshot wounds. His resolution called for council to encourage the governor and the state Legislature to ban “assault-style” weapons statewide.
Council amended the resolution to read “semi-automatic high capacity magazine weapons.”
Darby said he had been getting an unpleasant earful from some gun owners, although others have been respectful.
“It’s been a little rough. I’ve been called names. The criticism and the condescending tone of the voice,” he said. But he remains undeterred because he thinks taking steps to rein in gun violence is important for future generations.
“There comes a time when we must take a stand for something unpopular,” he said.
In his research on the issue, Darby, a black liberal, was struck by the fact that President Ronald Reagan, a white conservative, supported a ban on assault weapons.
Summey said that he, too, had been getting an earful from some gun owners. He emphasized that he owns “a pile of guns,” is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and had not realized the amended resolution encouraged restrictions on handguns such as his Glock.
“Every Glock I own has at least 10 rounds,” Summey said. “And ones that were bought a couple of years ago are 16 round magazines. Those would be considered banned,” he said.
Summey said a caller criticized him for not knowing what the resolution meant.
“The first call I got was, ‘Hey man, you know what you just did?’ And I was like, ‘No, I did not know,’” Summey said.
“If you don’t understand what you’re voting for, then you are unfit to be in office,” the caller said.
“I was like, ‘OK, so you have never made a mistake? Good,’ ” said Summey.
After Summey and Sass changed their votes earlier this week, the Council vote on the gun resolution was 5-2 in favor, with two abstentions.
Summey said votes can be changed retroactively at the next council meeting. He didn’t bring up the resolution for another vote on Tuesday because he knew at least one council member would object, and under Robert’s Rules of Order that would be the end of the matter, he said.
“But by rule I can change my vote on the record,” he said.
On Wednesday, the county issued a statement in which it said the resolution vote “last week” was 5-4. The county subsequently corrected that statement at its website.
“The resolution does not mean there is a ban on the sale of semi-automatic high capacity magazine weapons in Charleston County, nor is that the purpose,” the county said. In fact, the resolution called for a statewide ban on such weapons.
Summey said the resolution was only a suggestion that the appropriate officials look into banning certain weapons with high-capacity magazines, he said.
“You can’t just take what we did on its own. You have to look at the context in which the vote was taken,” he said.
“There was some confusion Thursday night (July 14) for sure,” he said.
Sass, who is a gun owner, said that he, too, was not fully aware of the meaning of the amended resolution.
“When you make a mistake you fix it,” he said.
After seeing Darby’s video of AK-47 rifles firing hundreds of rounds he thought the resolution applied to that sort of weapon. Sass questioned the appropriateness of placing the measure in the council resolutions where less controversial things such as recognizing employee performance typically appear.
“This resolution comes up, and it’s a couple of days after this terrible shooting, I guess it just caught me unaware,” he said.
The county does not, and can not, regulate guns, Sass noted.
“It’s just silly for us to be considering something like that,” he said.