By Robert Kittle

South Carolina law does not allow people who are ruled mentally incompetent to own or possess handguns. But a loophole in the state's gun laws apparently does allow them to own rifles, even so-called assault rifles.

The loophole came to light in a case in Bluffton, near Hilton Head Island. Last September, police and a SWAT team were called to the home of Anthony Valentino after he made suicidal and threatening statements to family members and neighbors.

Police confiscated three handguns and three rifles, including a Bushmaster .223-caliber and a shotgun.

A judge involuntarily committed Valentino for five days and doctors found that he posed a significant threat to himself or others. But since no crime was committed when police came to his house, he wanted to get his firearms back.

The judge looked at the law, which in one section references people who are adjudged unfit to "carry or possess a firearm", while the section right after that says a person who is judged unfit cannot "possess or acquire handguns". Since it specifically says "handguns", the judge ruled that Valentino could get his rifles back.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone will appeal that decision, but says state lawmakers need to fix the loophole.

State Senate president pro tem John Courson, R-Columbia, says having one section say "firearms" while another says "handguns" was likely an oversight during the drafting of the law. But he says a bill that's already pending in the state Senate would fix the problem. Lawmakers can't consider that until they go back into session in January.

But he says he's confident there will be no problem with getting lawmakers to close that loophole.

"I served in the Marine Corps and I've got weapons," he says. "I love 'em; I respect 'em. But they're dangerous and they should not be in the wrong hands, and people who have mental problems should not have access to weapons."

Valentino has moved out of South Carolina, according to his attorney.

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