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Legal Information: South Carolina

South Carolina State Gun Laws

State Gun Laws

Below is information about state gun laws in South Carolina. A restraining order or criminal conviction may make it illegal for an abuser to have a gun. However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply. To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.

Please consider getting in touch with a domestic violence advocate in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. To find help in your area, please go to the SC Places that Help page.

Basic Info and Definitions

What is the difference between federal and state gun laws?

In these gun laws pages, we refer to both "federal gun laws" and "state gun laws."  The major difference between the two has to do with who makes the law, who prosecutes someone who violates the law, and what the penalty is for breaking the law.

One reason why it is important for you to know that there are these two sets of gun laws is so that you can understand all of the possible ways that the abuser might be breaking the law, and you can better protect yourself.  Throughout this section, we will be referring mostly to state laws.  Be sure to also read our Federal Gun Laws pages to see if any federal laws apply to your situation as well.  You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating.

If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, you do not necessarily need to be able to tell the police which law was violated (state versus federal) but local police cannot arrest someone for violating federal law, only for violating state/local laws.  Only federal law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), can arrest someone for violating federal laws.  If the local police believe that a state law is being violated, they could arrest the abuser and hand the case over to the state prosecutor.  If the local police believe a federal law is being violated, hopefully, the police department will notify the ATF or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office in your state (which is the federal prosecutor).  For information on how you can contact ATF directly to report the violation of federal gun laws, go to Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?  If the abuser is breaking both state and federal laws, s/he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.

I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

South Carolina law makes it illegal for someone to have or buy any firearm or ammunition if s/he:

  1. was convicted in South Carolina (or of a similar crime in another state) of domestic violence in the first degree or domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature;
  2. was convicted in South Carolina of domestic violence in the second degree (or of a similar crime in another state) and the judge:
  3. was convicted in South Carolina of domestic violence in the third degree (or of a similar crime in another state) and at the time of sentencing, the judge:
    •  specifically ordered that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition; or
  4. has a valid order of protection issued against him/her from South Carolina (or from a court in another state, tribe, or territory) and at the time of the hearing, the judge did both of the following:
    • made specific findings that the abuser caused (or attempted to cause) physical harm, bodily injury, or assault to his/her household member; and
    • specifically ordered that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.* 

In addition, South Carolina state law says that a person cannot have or buy a handgun if s/he:

  • has been convicted of a "crime of violence" in any state or territory, which includes:
    • murder;
    • manslaughter (except negligent manslaughter arising out of traffic accidents);
    • rape;
    • mayhem;
    • kidnapping;
    • burglary;
    • robbery;
    • housebreaking;
    • assault with intent to kill, commit rape, or rob;
    • assault with a dangerous weapon; or 
    • assault with intent to commit any offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year;
  • is a fugitive from justice (someone who fled from any law enforcement officer to avoid prosecution or imprisonment for a crime of violence);
  • is a drug addict or an alcoholic;
  • has been declared mentally incompetent by a judge;
  • is under 18 years old (with some exceptions for members of the Armed Forces or for those under the immediate supervision of a parent or adult instructor);
  • has been declared unfit to carry or possess a gun by a circuit court or county court judge in South Carolina; or
  • is a member of a "subversive organization."**

Note: The prohibitions against having a firearm or ammunition, as explained in numbers 1 - 4, above, generally only last for a limited period of time.***  See If the abuser is prohibited from having a firearm or ammunition, how long does the prohibition last? for more information. 

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict a person's right to have a gun under certain circumstances.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* S.C. Code § 16-25-30(A)
** S.C. Code §§ 16-23-30(A)(1) & (B); 16-23-10(3),(4)
*** S.C. Code § 16-25-30(E)

What is the definition of a felony?

South Carolina state law defines felonies by dividing them into 6 classes, Class A through Class F. A Class A felony is punishable by jail time of up to 30 years, and a Class F felony is punishable by jail time of up to 5 years with the other 4 classes having maximum prison sentences in between 5 and 30 years.*

* S.C. Code § 16-1-20(A)

Guns and Protective Orders

I have a temporary order of protection against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away?

Most likely no. Nothing in South Carolina law specifically says that someone with a temporary order of protection against him/her cannot have a gun.* You can ask the judge to write in your temporary order that the abuser cannot have a gun while you are waiting for a full court hearing. If the judge sees the abuser's firearm as a serious enough threat, perhaps the judge might decide to write this in.

* See S.C. Code §§ 20-4-60; 16-25-30

I have a final order of protection against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

South Carolina law makes it illegal for someone to have or buy any firearm or ammunition if there is a valid order of protection issued against him/her from South Carolina (or from a court in another state, tribe, or territory) and at the time of the hearing, the judge did both of the following:

  • made specific findings that the abuser caused (or attempted to cause) physical harm, bodily injury, or assault to his/her household member; and
  • specifically ordered that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.*

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict a person's right to have a gun under certain circumstances, including when there is a final order of protection against him/her. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* S.C. Code § 16-25-30(A)

Guns and Criminal Convictions

If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

South Carolina law makes it illegal for someone to have or buy any firearm or ammunition if s/he:

  1. was convicted in South Carolina (or of a similar crime in another state) of domestic violence in the first degree or domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature;
  2. was convicted in South Carolina of domestic violence in the second degree (or of a similar crime in another state) and the judge:
  3. was convicted in South Carolina of domestic violence in the third degree (or of a similar crime in another state) and at the time of sentencing, the judge:
    •  specifically ordered that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.*

In addition, South Carolina state law says that a person cannot have or buy a handgun if s/he:

  • has been convicted of a "crime of violence" in any state or territory, which includes:
    • murder;
    • manslaughter (except negligent manslaughter arising out of traffic accidents);
    • rape;
    • mayhem;
    • kidnapping;
    • burglary;
    • robbery;
    • housebreaking;
    • assault with intent to kill, commit rape, or rob;
    • assault with a dangerous weapon; or 
    • assault with intent to commit any offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; or
  • is a fugitive from justice (someone who fled from any law enforcement officer to avoid prosecution or imprisonment for a crime of violence).**

Note: The prohibitions against having a firearm or ammunition, as explained in numbers 1 - 3, above, generally only last for a limited period of time.***  See If the abuser is prohibited from having a firearm or ammunition, how long does the prohibition last? for more information. 

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict a person's right to have a gun under certain circumstances such as when the abuser has been convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence-related crimes.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* S.C. Code § 16-25-30(A)
** S.C. Code §§ 16-23-30(A)(1) & (B); 16-23-10(3),(4)
*** S.C. Code § 16-25-30(E)

 

How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access. If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS. Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please see the question, What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

The Abuser Isn't Supposed to Have a Gun...Now What?

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

More Information and Where to Get Help

What is the penalty for violating state firearm laws?

Under South Carolina state law, anyone who has or buys a handgun in violation of the state's laws that prohibit certain people from having handguns can be guilty of a felony. The punishment can be imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $2,000, or both.*

The possible penalties for having a firearm or ammunition in violation of the state's laws that prohibit certain people from having a firearm or ammunition are as follows:

* S.C. Code § 16-23-50(A)(1)
** S.C. Code § 116-25-30(B)

I do not have an order of protection against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Can s/he have a gun?

Even if you do not have an order of protection against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a crime, South Carolina laws make it illegal to have a handgun in many other circumstances.  It is illegal for him/her to have a handgun at any time if:

  • is a drug addict or an alcoholic;
  • has been declared mentally incompetent by a judge;
  • is under 18 years old (with some exceptions for members of the Armed Forces or for those under the immediate supervision of a parent or adult instructor);
  • has been declared unfit to carry or possess a gun by a circuit court or county court judge in South Carolina; or
  • is a member of a "subversive organization."*

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety.  See our Safety Tips page for more information.  You can also contact your local domestic violence organization for additional help.  You may want to talk to them about whether leaving the area - either long term or for a little while - might help improve your safety.  See our SC Advocates and Shelters page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.

For additional information on gun laws in South Carolina, you can go to the Giffords Law Center website.

* S.C. Code §§ 16-23-30(A)(1) & (B); 16-23-10(3),(4)

I've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state law can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit, 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area (See our SC Advocates and Shelters page).