The conversation over coffee started off well enough.
Around 8 a.m. on Friday, Representative Ralph Norman was holding court inside a diner in Rock Hill, S.C., where he would spend the next hour hearing from constituents.
Struck by the red T-shirts worn by members of an advocacy group, Mr. Norman started by talking about guns, a discussion the group wanted to have.
Mr. Norman, a Republican, has faced heavy criticism for what happened shortly after.
At some point, the lawmaker reached into his blazer pocket, pulled out his gun and put it on a table in what he later said was an attempt to show that firearms themselves are not dangerous.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Norman, who has a concealed-weapon permit, defended his action, saying that what he did was not dangerous.
“I safely placed my gun on the table, pointed away from people,” he said. “The restaurant does not ban concealed weapons and I believe no laws were broken.”
Still, South Carolina’s Democratic Party has called on the authorities to revoke his permit and investigate. The party has pointed to a state statute that says it is illegal for a person to “present or point” a firearm at another person.
“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 for Gun Sense in America, said on Saturday.
Ms. Freemon, who said she was one of about a dozen constituents at the meeting, said Mr. Norman told the group his gun was loaded. He asked many times if they felt safer, she said.
Mr. Norman left the gun on the table for five to 10 minutes, Ms. Freemon added, then put it back in his blazer after a beeper went off, which prompted an aide to warn that the conversation would end soon. The firearm, she said, appeared to be a small handgun.
“I was very angry,” Ms. Freemon, 44, said. “I felt like it was a move to intimidate.”
Trav Robertson, the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, said the group would not stop pressing for answers.
“You’ve got a Republican congressman, who should know the state law, breaking the law or saying, ‘This law doesn’t affect me because I’m a legislator,’” Mr. Robertson said on Saturday. “We’re not going to let this drop.”
In his statement, Mr. Norman said that no constituents said they were threatened and that none left the meeting early. “In fact, we continued with our discussion, laughed, smiled, shook hands and snapped pictures together,” he said.
The statement did not say whether the gun was loaded.
Mr. Norman also accused Moms Demand Action of being “hellbent on repealing the Second Amendment and banning guns.”
“It is sad and disappointing that national gun control groups stoop to this sort of backhanded tactic to push their radical agenda,” he said.
In an interview with The Post and Courier, Mr. Norman argued more bluntly for his right to own a gun.
Referring to the former Democratic congresswoman who was shot outside an Arizona supermarket in 2011, he said: “I’m not going to be a Gabby Giffords.”
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