No charges for Rock Hill congressman who showed loaded gun, top SC prosecutor says

‘I’m not apologizing’: Congressman defends decision to show gun during meeting

U.S. Congressman Ralph Norman defended taking out a gun at a meeting with constituents last week. Norman said he didn't break any laws. Officials from the S.C. Democratic Party said they have asked the state law enforcement division to investigate.
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U.S. Congressman Ralph Norman defended taking out a gun at a meeting with constituents last week. Norman said he didn't break any laws. Officials from the S.C. Democratic Party said they have asked the state law enforcement division to investigate.

The State Law Enforcement Division and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson have decided not to prosecute U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman after he displayed a loaded weapon at a Rock Hill meet-and-greet.

"Some have complained about the Congressman's actions," Wilson's office said in a statement Tuesday. "However, our conclusion must be based upon the law and sound prosecutorial discretion. In this case, this is not a prosecutable offense."

16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett had declined Monday to prosecute Norman, saying there did not appear to be any criminal intent. Brackett, citing his friendship with Norman, said Monday he would have to recuse himself from any potential investigation. On Tuesday, he said he is "not surprised" that South Carolina's top prosecutor declined to prosecute Norman.

Wilson's statement said: "Although South Carolina law allows the carrying of a handgun only in certain authorized circumstances, such as compliance with the CWP law, we agree with Solicitor Brackett that there is no prosecutable offense under the undisputed circumstances of this incident."

In what became a national news story Friday, Norman pulled out his loaded .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun at one of his "Coffee with your Congressman" meet-and-greets at the Rock Hill Diner on Cherry Road.

Norman said he placed the handgun on the table when a group of women with a group called Moms Demand Action asked him to support gun law reforms. He said he put his gun on the table to prove the point, that a gun isn't dangerous by itself.

Norman told The Herald Monday that he "did nothing wrong," "broke no laws," and "welcomes any police investigation."

Brackett said the S.C. Court of Appeals has issued a ruling on such cases, that merely showing a weapon is not enough to charge someone with a crime.

"This was not a difficult decision," Brackett said. "To prosecute a case like this, a person must be displaying the gun in a threatening manner. In this case the gun was not displayed in a threatening manner."

On Monday, Brackett said although he does not believe Norman had any criminal intent when he put the gun on the restaurant table, he could understand that some people might have "reasonably questioned the wisdom" of Norman's actions. Brackett did emphasize he didn't believe what occurred should be considered a crime.

"There was no criminal intent here, and the interpretation of the law is there must be," Brackett said Monday afternoon.

South Carolina Democrats had pressed SLED and the attorney general's office to investigate the incident.

Trav Robertson, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, condemned the decisions by Brackett and Wilson.

Brackett, Wilson and Norman are all Republicans.

"This does nothing more than feed the culture of corruption in this state," Robertson said Tuesday afternoon. "Solicitor Brackett, Attorney General Wilson and Ralph Norman can never say again they are strict Constitutionalists. If they were, Rep. Norman would have been arrested and arraigned."

The Attorney General's Office did not let the Democratic Party know of its decision not to prosecute Norman, Robertson said. Robertson and senior Democratic Party staff learned of the decision from a reporter from The Herald after Wilson's office released a statement.

Robertson said the decision not to prosecute Norman "just gave people a reason to get off," when accused of a crime in similar instances. Defense lawyers in South Carolina now have a way to get such cases thrown out of court, Robertson said.

"The people of York County have to determine if the law is for everybody, not just laws he (Norman) can break," Robertson said.

In requesting an investigation into Norman's actions, Robertson cited Section 16-23-410 of South Carolina law, which states that it is illegal for anyone to "present or point at another person a loaded or unloaded firearm."

Section 23-31-210 of the law states a concealed weapon "must be carried in a manner that is hidden from public view in normal wear of clothing except when needed for self-defense, defense of others, and the protection of real or personal property."

B.J. Barrowclough, a York County deputy public defender, told The Herald Saturday that while cases of presenting guns may be dismissed or given a more lenient sentence, the offender is almost always arrested.

He said if the people he defends on a daily basis had done "the exact same thing, the exact same place," they would have been arrested.

"It probably was not done in a threatening manner, although I do think it was obviously done for the shock value of it," Barrowclough said. "But my point is, is that none of our clients get the benefit of the doubt. If anyone else, particularly someone of a lower socioeconomic background, did that in a diner in Rock Hill, they’d be in jail right now."

Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068, @hgsmoot