Politics & Government

Some question legality of Rep. Norman gun display at meet-and-greet

In this 2017 file photo, Republican Ralph Norman speaks to supporters at a campaign party in Rock Hill, S.C., after winning South Carolina's 5th Congressional District. Norman pulled out his own loaded handgun during a meeting with constituents on Friday to make a point that guns are dangerous only in the hands of criminals.
In this 2017 file photo, Republican Ralph Norman speaks to supporters at a campaign party in Rock Hill, S.C., after winning South Carolina's 5th Congressional District. Norman pulled out his own loaded handgun during a meeting with constituents on Friday to make a point that guns are dangerous only in the hands of criminals. AP

When U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of Rock Hill took out his loaded gun at a meet-and-greet Friday morning with voters, he may not have been prepared for the reaction he'd face online.

Some say Norman may have overstepped his legal right to carry a concealed weapon.

South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson said he will send an official request to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division to investigate the incident.

"As any truly responsible gun owner knows and as the statute says, if you have a concealed carry permit, you cannot brandish your weapon without an imminent threat," Robertson said in a statement. "It's dangerous and it's illegal. And today Congressman Norman showed us that he's anything but responsible."

Robertson cited Section 16-23-410 of South Carolina law, which states 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."

A law enforcement officer who asked not to be named by The Herald stressed police do not recommend pulling out loaded weapons in restaurants.

York County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Thompson said as a gun owner and concealed weapon permit holder himself, he is outraged by Norman's actions.

"No responsible gun owner would ever do such a foolish and dangerous stunt," Thompson said in a statement. "No responsible gun owner would use a loaded firearm as a prop. No responsible member of the United States House of Representatives would act with such indifference to public safety."

Dan Roberts is a board member and the outreach director for South Carolina Carry Inc., a grassroots gun advocacy group. Roberts said while the organization may not agree with the method Norman used, his point is valid.

In his personal opinion as a gun instructor for more than a decade, Roberts said Norman made a bad decision.

"Unnecessary handling of a firearm by anyone — including a police officer — increases the likelihood of a discharge," Roberts said. "But the point he was trying to make was a valid point."

Democratic candidate for South Carolina governor Phil Noble also spoke out against Norman's action.

"Let's be clear on what happened today: Ralph Norman pulled out a loaded gun, waved it around in a crowd of strangers, and then started ranting about former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was shot in the head in 2011 at a similar event," Noble said in a statement. "Fact is, if he didn't have the word 'Congressman' in front of his name, he'd be undergoing a mandatory, 24-hour psych evaluation right now — and, frankly, that's exactly where he belongs."

B.J. Barrowclough, York County deputy public defender, said he questioned why Ralph Norman wasn't arrested.

Barrowclough said under South Carolina law, even if someone isn't pointing a firearm, just having a firearm out, particularly in a threatening manner, is illegal.

"It probably was not done in a threatening manner, although I do think it was obviously done for the shock value of it," he 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.

"I think that’s it’s kind of outrageous that Ralph Norman exploits the fact that he’s a rich white politician to do a stunt like that and not get arrested."

Barrowclough said while cases of presenting guns may be dismissed during prosecution or given a more lenient sentence, the offender is almost always arrested. He said if the people he defends on a day to day basis had done "the exact same thing, the exact same place," they would have been arrested.

"Either Ralph Norman should have been arrested, or I’d like to see my clients get the same kind of benefit of the doubt that Ralph Norman gets," he said. "One or the other."

Some local organizations have been more supportive.

"So not only do hysterical anti-gun liberals not understand guns are inanimate objects, they don’t know the definition of 'brandish,'" tweeted S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick.

But lawmakers across the country have chimed in as well. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been outspoken in his disagreement with President Donald Trump, tweeted in response to Norman's comments that he doesn't want to be "another Gabby Giffords."

"I'm not going to be a victim," Norman said.

Giffords was shot in the head in 2011, but survived her injuries.

"I sincerely hope you never have to experience what my friend experienced," Flake tweeted. "But to suggest that she might have avoided being shot had she carried a weapon as she spoke to constituents that morning is inappropriate and inconsiderate."

Giffords' husband, astronaut Scott Kelly also responded to the incident on Twitter.

"When I think of , I think of courage and public service, not intimidating constituents," he tweeted. "You’re no Gabby, . You pull out a gun when you are prepared and need to use it – not for a stunt."

Families of Parkland, Florida shooting victim's also called out Norman.

Fred Guttenberg's daughter Jamie Guttenberg, who was 14, died in the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School.

"What a miserable human being," Guttenberg tweeted. "This person should not be serving in congress."

Efforts to obtain further comment from Norman Saturday have been unsuccessful.

Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068
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