Officials gun-shy about adding firearm regulations, despite problems on Lady's Island

Beaufort County officials say they have no plans to join county municipalities in banning residents from discharging firearms.

Some Lady's Island residents thought the county should pass such an ordinance to help law enforcement more aggressively prosecute a band of hunters illegally blasting away at deer this past hunting season in the woods near Pleasant Point.

"Law enforcement needs an ordinance and a tool that would permit them to act and stop the gunfire that is endangering lives," said Paula Loftis, a Pleasant Point resident. "Common sense and responsible behavior has not prevailed."

Beaufort, Bluffton, Port Royal and Hilton Head Island all have ordinances banning the discharge of firearms. Though their language varies, the ordinances all make exceptions for police officers firing their guns in the line of duty, citizen self-defense and legal hunting.

While such ordinances are common at the municipal level, counties across the state have been slow to adopt them. Of counties of comparable size, only York County has an ordinance banning residents from discharging guns.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said that if the county were to implement such a policy, it would have to be carefully worded.

"You couldn't pass a blanket ordinance making it illegal to discharge firearms in all areas of the unincorporated county," Tanner said. "That's not the answer."

Complaints about the hunters to the Sheriff's Office were referred to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources because the activity was deemed to be related to hunting. State law only bans pointing a loaded or unloaded firearm at another person or firing a gun into or at a house. State hunting laws prohibit hunting within 300 yards of a home, trespassing to hunt and hunting from a public road.

Given current state laws and the county's rural makeup, County Council Chairman Weston Newton said he doesn't think such a policy is necessary.

"There is a difference between the urbanized areas that exist within the incorporated parts of the county and the more rural ... unincorporated areas where hunting is still a significant activity," Newton said. "I'm just not sure that we have a problem that a county ordinance would address or whether an ordinance would do anything to supplement existing state law."

Councilman Paul Sommerville, whose district includes Pleasant Point, agrees.

"State law addresses all of our concerns," Sommerville said. "I suppose that's why the council hasn't felt the need to enact another ordinance over these many years."

But Loftis believes the county is getting to the point where it needs gun rules to protect its citizens.

"It is neither a second or ninth amendment issue nor a gun ban," she said. "The problems are not related to self-defense or protection but rather the out-of-control reckless and frivolous shooting of firearms in the community."

Local ordinances governing discharging of firearms

Bluffton: Illegal except for hunting, police officers and self-defense.

Hilton Head Island: Illegal except for police officers or certified security guards authorized to carry firearms. Allowed in areas designed as practice ranges and sport shooting. Does not prohibit hunting.

Beaufort: Illegal except for police officers, self-defense, licensed commercial indoor shooting ranges, use of blank ammunition at athletic events and military funerals, low-density development properties with an agreement with the city to allow hunting.

Port Royal: Illegal except for police officers and self-defense.