Remember the plastic-bag-ban ban? And the teen-vaping-ban ban? And the flavored-cigarette-ban ban?
None of those efforts to prevent cities and counties from restricting these products passed the Legislature this year. But the idea behind them was hardly radical. There’s a long tradition of state mandates and restrictions on local governments, which allow legislators from, say, Greenville to dictate what the city of Charleston can and can’t do, or legislators from cities to tell rural counties what they must and mustn’t do.
There’s the pig-farm-ban ban, and the billboard-ban ban, and an indoor-smoking-ban ban, later overturned by the S.C. Supreme Court because of the sloppy way the Legislature wrote it.
And of course the gun-ban ban. Or, more accurately, the ban on cities and counties imposing even the most modest restrictions on guns.
I was reminded of just how overreaching this ban is when I read the latest attorney general’s opinion about one of Columbia’s efforts to reduce criminals’ access to guns. This particular measure prohibits the manufacture of so-called ghost guns — homemade guns that don’t have serial numbers.
The state gun-ban ban prohibits local governments from regulating “the transfer, ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms, ammunition, components of firearms, or any combination of these things.”
Columbia said its ordinance didn’t ban ghost guns per se. It was a land-use ordinance, designating as a public nuisance any “act, structure, device, or location which is used for the manufacture, assembly, storage, warehousing, transfer, distribution or sale of one or more ghost guns.” City officials also said the ordinance carries out the spirit of another state law that makes it illegal to remove serial numbers from guns.
The attorney general’s opinion said the ordinance probably violates state law, although it said the question was “a closer one than many of the questions considered in our previous opinions” — all of which said courts likely would find various ordinances illegal.
Columbia City Council has approved a red-flag ordinance to take guns from people judged to be a threat to themselves or others, bans on bump stocks and ghost guns and an extension of state gun-free zones near schools, challenging a SC ban on local gun restrictions.
Like the one that said Traveler’s Rest would likely violate the law if it banned concealed weapons in a particular park. The city said that park becomes the equivalent of a workplace when the city hosts concerts, and noted that state law allows “a public or private employer” to prohibit people from carrying concealed weapons into a workplace.
Or the one that said Greenville probably violated the law by making it a crime for “any person to have any rifle or shotgun in his possession while on or in any public street, alley or other way or any other public property unless the rifle or shotgun is unloaded, broken down and separated.” Not handguns. Rifles and shotguns. On city streets.
And my favorite: An opinion, followed by a Circuit Court ruling that said Columbia violated the law in 2015 when it approved a temporary restriction on guns within 250 feet of the perimeter of the Statehouse grounds.
The emergency ordinance was approved as supporters and opponents of the Confederate flag were gathering to protest and celebrate the removal of the flag the next day. And local, state and federal law enforcement were monitoring plans by flag supporters to bring guns to the ceremony.
Think about that: State law bans guns on the Statehouse grounds — where the Legislature works. But it says cities can’t even temporarily restrict them where other people work, or walk, or dine. Even when they’re expecting a riot the next day.
I don’t have an issue with the attorney general’s opinions. My issue is with the underlying law. With all the time and effort cities and counties have to expend trying to find ways to get around it.
Local governments aren’t trying to prohibit the ownership or possession of guns. They’re not trying to require that all gun purchases include background checks, or that sellers wait until checks are completed before they hand over the gun. They’re trying to take small, reasonable steps grown out of their own police departments’ experiences with bad guys with guns.
The Legislature, it must be said, hasn’t passed a law to let people carry any kind of firearms anywhere they want. Or to arm teachers. Or to prohibit pediatricians from talking to parents about gun safety. Perhaps that’s because as much as our lawmakers love kowtowing to the most radical demands of the gun lobby, these sorts of laws wouldn’t allow them to simultaneously engage in their favorite activity: stripping local governments of the authority the state constitution says they’re supposed to have.
Cindi Scoppe is an editorial writer for The Post and Courier. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter @CindiScoppe.