Horry County Council took its first shot at becoming a "Second Amendment sanctuary" Tuesday, but the vote was not without some recoil.
Councilman Johnny Vaught asked the council to discuss the proposed ordinance behind closed doors so the county could get a legal briefing about the possible impact of a Columbia lawsuit on the county’s ordinance. But other council members objected to the discussion taking place in executive session.
“If we’re going to receive legal advice on this, I think it should be out here in public where the citizenry can also hear,” said councilman Al Allen, who proposed the ordinance.
Councilman Dennis DiSabato agreed.
“I don’t see any reason why we need to do that behind closed doors,” he said.
Vaught said such a discussion would help council “understand the ramifications” of becoming a "Second Amendment sanctuary," but he ultimately withdrew his motion and the first vote passed without further debate.
The proposed ordinance is similar to other policies that have been presented to cities and counties across the country following the gun regulations recommended by the now Democratic-controlled legislature in Virginia.
Horry County's proposed ordinance states that the county will oppose any state or federal law that county officials consider to be an infringement on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The term “sanctuary” is the same the language some cities used when they objected to federal immigration policies and declared themselves “sanctuary cities.”
Now gun rights advocates have adopted the term. Essentially, Horry County's proposed ordinance states that the county will not enforce gun laws that local officials believe are unconstitutional.
County council members have sparred over whether to approve the sanctuary proposal as a resolution — a largely symbolic measure that would express support for the Second Amendment — or a formal ordinance, which requires three votes and establishes county policy.
Vaught said his concern stems from a lawsuit that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson filed last month against the City of Columbia. Wilson sued the city over gun laws that the AG considers unconstitutional.
“We have consistently advised for almost three decades, since 1991, that state law preempts local regulation of firearms,” Wilson said in a Jan. 29 a news release. “These ordinances clearly violate the state law that prohibits local governments from passing any gun laws or ordinances that regulate the transfer, ownership, or possession of firearms.”
Despite Vaught's concerns, Allen stressed that the ordinance is in line with Wilson’s position.
“[Columbia] attempted to pass more restrictive laws against the Second Amendment,” he said. “Our ordinance agrees with the attorney general. … I don’t see any danger of Horry County being sued by the attorney general over this ordinance.”
But Vaught has countered that a “Second Amendment sanctuary” policy at the county level is unnecessary, particularly in gun-friendly South Carolina.
Allen has repeatedly said the ordinance is a contingency in case of a rogue state government. He often says people buy umbrellas on sunny days to prepare for rainy ones.
But Vaught isn’t buying that argument. He said a “Second Amendment sanctuary” policy at the county level is unnecessary.
“You don’t need an umbrella in the desert,” he said.
A second vote and public hearing are expected at the council’s next meeting on Feb. 18. A third favorable vote would be needed to enact the ordinance.