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Legal Information: South Carolina

State Gun Laws

March 26, 2018

If the abuser is prohibited from having a firearm or ammunition, how long does the prohibition last?

The prohibitions against having a firearm or ammunition generally only last for a limited period of time. (The time limits do not apply, however, to the prohibition from possessing a handgun).

The only prohibition against having a firearm or ammunition that lasts a lifetime is if the abuser was convicted of the crime called domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. If the prohibition is based on the abuser having an order of protection against him/her, the prohibition lasts until the order expires. If the abuser was convicted of domestic violence in the first degree, the prohibition lasts for ten years from the date of the conviction or from the date the abuser is released from prison, whichever is later. If the abuser was convicted of domestic violence in the second or third degrees, the prohibition lasts for three years from the date of the conviction or from the date the abuser is released from prison, whichever is later.*

Note: Once the ten-year period or the three-year period of time has passed, the abuser's rights to possess a firearm or ammunition may still not be restored (given back to him/her) if s/he has any domestic violence charges pending against him/her at the time or if s/he has been convicted of any other domestic violence crimes that would prohibit him/her from having a firearm.**

* S.C. Code § 16-25-30(E)
** S.C. Code § 16-25-30(F)(1)

If the abuser's handgun is taken away, what will happen to it?

If someone is convicted for using a handgun in violation of the prohibitions in the state's handgun law, the handgun can be taken away from the abuser and given to the local chief of police or the county sheriff. The law enforcement agency that gets the gun can store it, use it, give it to another agency for use, trade it for another gun with a licensed firearms dealer, or destroy it. However, this can happen only after all legal proceedings related to the handgun have been completed.* If the agency needs to store the gun, it may be kept in their evidence room.

* S.C. Code § 16-23-50(B)

Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the state police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our SC Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in South Carolina on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer. 

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our SC Advocates and Shelters page. 

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.* 

United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.* If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from legally buying a gun. Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system. Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate. Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

* National Criminal Justice Reference Service website