Broke but armed: Lawmaker looks to shield $5K of guns from bankruptcy creditors

Published: Jan. 14, 2017 at 3:56 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2017 at 9:57 PM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - When individuals fall on hard financial times, the bank can seize their property.

But one local lawmaker is fighting to keep guns off that list.

State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, is sponsoring House Bill 3429. His goal with the proposed legislation is to shield up to $5,000 worth of guns from creditors.

For perspective, the current shield on jewelry is $1,000.

Clemmons said he was inspired to sponsor the bill after one of his clients lost their protection.

"In this lady's case, she was in a very bad situation (involving) a restraining order," Clemmons said. "Somebody out there really wants to get her and she had one firearm, a pistol, that she did not want to have to relinquish."

According to Clemmons, a real estate and bankruptcy attorney, the woman was eventually forced to liquidate her possessions, including the gun.

Regarding his proposed legislation, a debate over the $5,000 cap helped to stall the bill in the Senate last year, according to state Sen. Greg Hembree, who otherwise supports it.

"I think that makes sense now, how much," Hembree said. "Whether it should be $5,000 or $2,000, how many guns do you need to protect yourself, No. 1, and one could make a good argument about heirloom guns."

Clemmons said he would like to see those in bankruptcy have the right to keep a pistol, a shotgun and a rifle for hunting.

Robert Battista, owner of the 707 Gun Shop and Shooting Range, said one could buy those three weapons for around $600 on the affordable end.  However, he agrees with the $5,000 cap for safety and sentimental value.

"If your grandfather passed down, say, a Colt Python, that alone is a $3,000 firearm," Battista said. "You might not ever sell it, but that doesn't mean that if you declare bankruptcy they don't put a value of $3,000 on it. So, I think a $5,000 limit is very easy to eat up in those kind of circumstances. Or, if you're a serious hunter, just your scope alone could be worth $1,500, $2,000."

Other lawmakers are less supportive of the bill.

"It, for me, was just yet another example of this state's fascination and addiction to guns," said State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. "There are a lot more bills that will impact a lot more people in this state, in my view, other than that."

Clemmons said he has the support of the Banker's Association, the group which stands to lose the money for the gun shield. Now, he's just hoping for support in the Senate this term.

House Bill 3429 is scheduled to get a subcommittee hearing within the next month. Clemmons is confident the bill could become law this session. 
The bill also includes a $50,000 homestead exemption for a surviving spouse after the death of a wife or husband.

For a closer look at the bill, click here.

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