South Carolina law enforcement and criminal justice officials have given mixed signals about whether or not Rep. Ralph Norman broke any laws Friday when he placed a loaded gun on a table at a meeting with constituents at a local diner.
The South Carolina Democratic Party called for the State Law Enforcement Division and the state attorney general’s office to investigate the incident and for 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett to file felony charges against the first-term Republican.
Norman dismissed the Democrats’ request as political nonsense but said he would “welcome any challenges” from his opponents on the issue.
“Let them investigate all they want,” he told the The Herald in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where the incident took place.
Norman said he has “no regrets.”
“I didn’t break any laws at all,” the congressman said. “I did it to prove a point.”
It is unclear whether SLED or the AG’s office will launch formal investigations into whether Norman broke any laws when he removed his .38-caliber handgun from the inside pocket of his blazer and placed it on the table for roughly five minutes in front of constituents from the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
SLED will review and consider the request, Thom Berry, SLED spokesman told The Herald.
Brackett, the solicitor, has said he and his office will not be involved with initiating any prosecution against Norman because he and Norman are friends.
Brackett told The Herald that if he was not recusing his office from the matter, he would still not prosecute Norman because there was no criminal intent.
People have “reasonably questioned the wisdom” of Norman’s actions, Brackett said, but they do not constitute a crime.
“I did not break the law,” Norman said Monday. “I did not wave it. I did not brandish it. I didn’t point it at anyone.”
Others with knowledge of South Carolina’s criminal justice system disagree.
B.J. Barrowclough, a York County deputy public defender, told The Herald that Norman’s actions were illegal. Barrowclough’s office represents clients arrested and charged in similar cases.
Norman said he sat with the Moms Demand Action activists at the “coffee with constituents” breakfast last Friday even though he could have chosen to sit with other constituents with whom he shares more common political ground.
The group and congressman discussed working together on domestic abuse legislation before the conversation turned to guns.
“Ralph, don’t you carry a gun?” a man sitting in front of Norman asked.
“Absolutely I do,” Norman said.
The congressman then reached into the inside pocket of his blazer and removed the gun, which was loaded. He laid it on the table, pointed away from anyone. It remained there for at least five minutes before Norman retrieved it.
While Norman considered the gesture an opportunity to inform people who have had less experience with and exposure to guns, some present at the event interpreted it as intimidation.
“As I was sitting there, I was thinking, ‘I don’t think what he’s doing is legal,’” Lori Freemon, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, told The New York Times on Saturday.
“I was very angry,” Freemon, 44, said. “I felt like it was a move to intimidate.”
In a Facebook post the following day, Norman called Moms Demand Action a group with “a radical agenda, funded by out-of-state groups, and hell bent on repealing the Second Amendment and banning guns,” a characterization the group said is not true.
“It is sad and disappointing that national gun control groups stoop to this sort of backhanded tactic to push their radical agenda,” Norman wrote.