Like most states, South Carolina does not require gun owners to register their weapons with the police. The state also does not require a permit to purchase a firearm. However, it does not mean that everyone can own a firearm and that they can have one in their possession at all times. The main permitting requirement in the state is to be able to carry a concealed weapon.
When It Is Illegal to Possess a Firearm in South Carolina
Even though South Carolina does not have restrictive firearms laws, there are some instances in which possession of a firearm is illegal.
Unlawful possession of firearms charges can be divided into the following categories:
- Prohibited possession under certain circumstances
- Prohibited possession by certain people
- Prohibited possession of certain types of weapons
The main prohibitions are contained in Title 16 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. First, the laws do not define what it means to possess a firearm. Presumably, you cannot have a gun on your person, regardless of whether you are the actual owner. In addition, there are even stricter rules about the possession of handguns.
The Circumstances for Illegal Firearm Possession
The law punishes you for having a firearm on you in the following circumstances:
- When you knew that the gun was stolen
- In the commission of a crime
- When the serial number was removed from the gun
- On the premises of any school or property controlled by a school
- On the premises of an establishment that sells alcohol
- Bus or any other public transportation vehicle
Who May Not Possess a Gun in South Carolina?
Then, South Carolina law also prohibits the following people from having possession of a gun:
- People who have been convicted of a violent crime
- Those who are drug addicts or habitually drunk (these classifications seem relatively vague)
- Mentally incompetent
- Members of a subversive organization
- Minors under the age of 18
- Those people judged by a court to be unfit to carry a firearm
Federal authorities can also charge someone with illegal possession of a firearm. For example, it is illegal under federal law for felons to possess firearms and ammunition.
Types of Firearms That Are Illegal to Possess
Finally, it is illegal to possess the following types of firearms under South Carolina law:
- Sawed-off shotguns and rifles
- Machine guns
- Military firearms
South Carolina will even recognize concealed carry permits issued in other states, provided that those jurisdictions recognize the South Carolina permit.
South Carolina has recently changed its gun laws to allow for open carry of firearms when one has a concealed weapons permit, although businesses can restrict people from openly carrying guns on their premises. However, there are still places where one cannot possess a firearm at all.
South Carolina Has Strict Penalties for Illegal Possession
Although South Carolina firearms law is more permissive about possession than laws in many other jurisdictions, the state actually will punish illegal firearm possession relatively harshly. South Carolina considers some weapons offenses to be misdemeanors, but most cases of illegal firearm possession are considered to be felonies.
For example, the “usual” case of illegal handgun possession is treated as a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. Firearms violations in prohibited places, such as a school, are also treated as a felony. Wrongfully carrying a firearm is considered a misdemeanor that is punished with a fine and up to a year in prison.
The prosecutor must prove several things to win a conviction on an illegal firearms charge. First, they must show that the gun was actually on your person. Second, they must prove that you did not have a legal right to possess the firearm. Finally, the prosecutor must also prove that you had the intent to possess the gun. Possession charges require intent – there is no such thing as an accidental possession charge.
Even though a firearms possession charge is a felony, there is still a wide range of outcomes. You can choose to fight the possession charges. A firearm is evidence, and police may not have had reasonable suspicion to stop and pat you down, or they may not have had probable cause to execute the search that seized the gun. If you can get the evidence suppressed when it was illegally seized, you will have a better chance of winning an acquittal.
Alternatively, you may choose to negotiate with the prosecutor in the hopes of obtaining a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. There is only a mandatory minimum sentence (five years) when a firearm has been used in the commission of a crime. Otherwise, the prosecution has discretion in the length of the sentence that it recommends to the court.
Contact a Greenville Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you have been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, you may face significant consequences, including jail time and the possible loss of your future right to possess a firearm.
The attorneys at Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey LLC can help you mount a vigorous defense to the charges against you to obtain the best possible legal outcome. To request a case review, you can send us a message online, and we will contact you. Or, you can call us at (864) 523-7738.
South Carolina Firearm Law FAQs
What if law enforcement found the gun in my car?
Having a gun in your car will be considered possession within the meaning of the law and will lead to criminal charges. If it is under a seat, you need a concealed carry permit.
Isn’t South Carolina a “gun-friendly” state?
Possession laws are more lenient, and you do not need a specific license. However, prosecutors will also take strong action when they believe that laws were broken, and they will seek to win a conviction.
Do I need a lawyer for firearm possession charges?
Given the possible penalties, you should have a lawyer defending you.