Fort Mill Times

Tega Cay could finalize gun rule Monday

Tega Cay isn’t looking to take on state or federal gun laws, though some residents are up in arms about the city’s firearms stance.

On Monday, the city was scheduled for a final reading of Ordinance 70, which includes language on what is and isn’t allowed in regard to guns. The gun provisions make up a relatively small part of the ordinance, and are similar to those in neighboring Fort Mill and Rock Hill, according to city officials.

“The bulk of the changes to Ordinance 70 have nothing to do with firearms,” said Charlie Funderburk, city manager. “It has to do with the parking of boats and trailers at your home and the use of golf carts in the city.”

Funderburk said he and City Council are getting emails and phone calls about guns, but that residents may “have gotten some bad information.” A city attorney review of the sections on discharging firearms found, Funderburk said, that there isn’t any conflict with state and federal laws allowing people to use firearms in self-defense.

“Nothing in our regulation prohibits someone from owning a gun,” Funderburk said. “Nothing in our regulation says that they do not have the right to defend their home against an intruder by using a firearm. State law covers that. State law also covers the carrying of a firearm.”

Resident Michael Wegner disagrees with the city’s take. He reads the ordinance and sees mention of any discharge of a gun as unlawful. Wegner isn’t sure why the city needs much of the ordinance, given the state allows certain uses of firearms and illegal use of them would break any number of existing laws.

“It’s always a crime to discharge a firearm in a dangerous manner,” Wegner said. “Their intent is to make it illegal to fire a gun.”

Wegner said the city can’t overstep state and federal law, but if people don’t know the larger gun use laws they could be confused into thinking guns aren’t allowed in Tega Cay.

“They’re completely unwilling to make a law that’s clear to people,” Wegner said.

Resident Tim Bowden emailed his concerns to City Council members, then forwarded them to the Fort Mill Times. Bowden wants the city to take counsel from the National Rifle Association, which on July 17 and then again on Oct. 8 posted critical takes on the city’s ordinance at nraila.org.

The NRA postings called for followers to contact city leaders on the issue and turn out to Monday’s meeting. The group’s stance is that the ordinance “falls far short of being clear and unambiguous” on gun laws. (Monday’s meeting was held past press time. For an update, go to fortmilltimes.com).

Bowden agreed, saying a city attorney opinion that the ordinance doesn’t remove state rights isn’t enough.

“Not conflicting with South Carolina law is not the same thing as being consistent with South Carolina law it simply implies that you have not exceeded the lower boundary,” Bowden wrote.

Funderburk said the city is doing what it can to accommodate those views. Adding entire sections codifying existing state and federal laws isn’t practical, he said, so the city added “except for as preempted by state and/or federal law” at the beginning of the gun section. The remainder of that section “has been in effect basically since the first adoption” of the ordinance in the early 1980s.

“Like all municipal ordinances, if there is a state or federal law that speaks to a particular subject, state or federal law will supersede the local ordinance,” Funderburk said. “The regulation is no different.”

In past discussions, including at least one candidate forum, reasons for including the unlawful discharge items noted the proximity of homes in Tega Cay. City leaders hope the ordinance will limit unnecessary activity with guns.

“Basically what our ordinance says – and it is almost identical to Fort Mill and Rock Hill’s regulations – is that you can’t just take up target practice in your backyard, you can’t brandish a firearm to intimidate someone and you can’t run around the city detonating stuff,” Funderburk said. “Our law is not inconsistent with state or federal law.”

Fort Mill’s code doesn’t state that federal or state laws take precedent, as the addition would in Tega Cay. Fort Mill code prohibits not only the discharge of firearms, but of air rifles and toy guns, too. Town code has rules against carrying pistols or other dangerous weapons, but makes provision for having guns in homes, places of business and for other reasons like gun businesses or nightwatchmen.

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