A minor is anyone under the age of 18 in South Carolina, and there are specific restrictions on ownership and possession of firearms by minors. As gun owners, we want to teach our children how to responsibly use firearms, and many children can be trusted with firearms long before reaching adulthood. However, we must also be aware of and abide the laws governing such possession. Today we will focus purely on the laws covering handgun possession by minors.
South Carolina State Law
State law is the first place we look for restrictions on possession, and the SC legislature generally makes possession by minors illegal through SC Code Ann. 16-23-30(A)(3)&(B). This section of law provides in part that “It is unlawful for a [minor] . . . to possess or acquire handguns within this State”
The legislature specifically carves out an exception to this rule for instruction in the use of handguns if “under the immediate supervision” of an adult instructor. So under SC law, you can take a child to the range for shooting instructions, but you cannot leave them home alone with a handgun nor allow them to hunt with a handgun.
Our enquiry does not end here though. We must also examine Federal law. This is one of the instances where Federal firearm laws are actually less restrictive than SC firearm laws. 18 U.S.C. 922(x)(2) provides the general prohibition that makes it “unlawful for any person who is a juvenile to knowingly possess a handgun.” (For this statute juveniles are anyone under 18.)
However, this general prohibition is not the final word in the Federal statute. There are specifically exceptions for temporary possession of handguns “in the course of employment, . . . ranching or farming, . . . target practice, hunting, or a course of instruction.” These exceptions require the minor to have “prior written consent of the juvenile’s parent or guardian” and to keep such permission in his possession whenever he has the firearm. This is an additional paperwork burden over the SC statute, but Federal law has much greater respect for a juvenile’s right to use a handgun.
An additional Federal provision foregoes the parental permission when the juvenile takes possession of a handgun in a private residence in defense of himself or others. Such exception recognizes the innermost core of the Second Amendment and respects the juvenile’s right to defend his own life.
SC state law is quite restrictive on handgun possession by minors and only allows such possession for the explicit purpose of training under adult supervision. Federal law adds an additional requirement that the minor must have written permission from his parents or guardians. While it can be argued that written permission should be a nullity when the parent is physically present, the Federal statute does not address this issue.
Under Federal law there are more exceptions for minors to possess handguns. Unfortunately, South Carolina’s restrictive statutes prevent the citizens of our state from being able to use these exceptions.