Backlash continued to mount Saturday after a South Carolina Republican congressman pulled out a loaded handgun during a meeting with constituents to make a point about safety.

“His intent was good but his actions were not fully thought out,” Arlyn Pendergast, owner of ATP Gun Store and Range near Summerville, said, adding he wouldn’t criticize the lawmaker and supports his underlying message.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said he pulled out the weapon – a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, and left it pointed away from others for several minutes Friday morning in an attempt to say guns are only dangerous in the hands of criminals.

Meanwhile, Democrats and organizations that seek to fight gun violence continued to denounce the congressman’s actions, with some calling for residents in his district to vote him out of office.

Pendergast, however, stressed the safety aspect of handling guns. “You should only pull out your gun when you’re unloading it to put it away, defending (yourself), or target practicing,” he added.

The store owner said that while the congressman should learn a lesson from this situation, he sees no need for him to be punished.

After Friday’s meeting, Norman remained firmly behind his actions.

“I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords,” he told The Post and Courier, referring to the former Arizona Democratic congresswoman who was shot outside a Tucson-area grocery store during a constituent gathering in 2011.

The comments and Norman’s original actions drew criticism that continued into Saturday.

Retiring U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., called Norman’s comparison to Giffords “inappropriate and inconsiderate,” in a tweet.

In an email to supporters on Saturday, the S.C. Democratic Party sought to fund-raise out of the incident, calling for donations to “help us put more boots on the ground and send this clown home,” referring to Norman.

Norman is a state concealed carry permit holder and said he regularly brings his gun with him when out in public.

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During Friday’s event, he told attendees if anyone walked into the diner and started shooting, he would be able to protect them because of his gun.

Norman said he plans to display his gun at constituent meetings moving forward.

Interviewed Saturday, Charleston County’s Republican Sheriff Al Cannon said he understands Norman’s frustration over people continuing to blame firearms for violence instead of the people who use them with malicious intent.

When asked whether displaying a firearm in the manner Norman did was illegal or not in-line with best practices, Cannon said he was not sure whether that kind of issue was addressed in the state’s law.

“I understand his point,” the sheriff said. “I have done that myself, one time, but it’s certainly something that’s going to make a lot of people uncomfortable simply because of their lack of familiarity with weapons in general.”

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Cannon said several years ago he met with a group of women and was making a point that a firearm is simply a tool. He took out his handgun and rendered it safe in front of his audience by removing the magazine, making sure no ammunition was in the firing chamber and locking the slide of his weapon in the rear position.

“The handling of firearms safely doesn’t hurt anybody,” he said. “ Firearms are something to respect and understand, and like a lot of other things, are useful tools.”

Cannon said he believes Norman was trying to go further than make a rhetorical point about firearm safety and demonstrate something that would stick in his constituents’ minds for a long time.

A representative for Norman’s office could not be reached Saturday for clarification on whether the congressman rendered his weapon safe during Friday’s meeting.

For Jason Mele, owner of Upstate Armory Group in Simpsonville, the real issue in Friday’s situation isn’t safety; it’s people’s familiarity or lack thereof with firearms.

In most cases, the people who speak against gun rights have no experience with firearms safety, Mele said.

“I hate what I fear and I fear what I don’t understand,” he said, sharing his observations on human tendencies.

Mele laid out the four general rules of gun safety: assume all guns are loaded, never point a gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, keep your finger off the trigger until your eyes are set on the target and you’ve made a decision to shoot, and be sure of your target and what’s behind it.

“If he was employing those four rules, then I don’t have a problem with what he did,” Mele said.

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