Columbia City Council exploring ordinance that would let police temporarily seize guns

Published: Jul. 15, 2019 at 7:55 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Columbia City Council says they will be taking time to explore a move that would let the police take away someone’s guns, under very specific circumstances.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said this would only apply to those deemed an ‘extreme risk’ after a court process. Extreme risk pertains to someone who has exhibited violent risks or tendencies to themselves or the public.

“We should look at the 13 states around the county that have what we call ‘extreme risk protection orders,’ Benjamin said. “It allows family members or those who live with someone to report that to a law enforcement officer and to go through the court's process. You have to go to court for this, to get a temporary order removing that person’s access to firearms.”

Benjamin said the item was discussed last week behind closed doors in council’s executive session. He adds the agenda item was accidentally added to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, but while it has been removed, he says they are still exploring the topic.

He cited recent murder-suicides.

In and around Columbia as a reason, he called for the move in June.

“You see murder-suicides, people killing those who live with them and they’re married to and then killing themselves. We just really want to start thinking outside the box about ways in which we can begin to limit gun violence while at the very same time, respecting our constitutional rights and the second amendment.

Benjamin wanted to make it very clear that this is not a move that would result in a mass confiscation of weapons, and that it is simply a tool that could be in city law to help police.

“The chief certainly sees the value in it. We have to just make sure the practicality in potentially enforcing something like this doesn’t lend itself to dangerous situations for our officers and that’s my primary concern and his primary concern as well. It’s clear to the chief, I’ll let the chief speak for himself, but it’s clear to the chief that if you have individuals who are suffering, or in some state of crisis that they ought not to have firearms. That’s a pretty simple issue,” Benjamin said.

At-large Councilman Howard Duvall is in agreeance with the ordinance and the potential it could have to lessen violence.

“Well I think that anytime we can help the police department and help the citizens of Columbia stay safer, with the availability of weapons readily available, to most of our population, some people carry out that intent and you have seen it in the news, in the last 6 weeks we’ve had several,” Duvall said.

Jamae Mcdermott a psychiatrist, says she is in favor of the ordinance.

She adds when patients tell her about violent tendencies, aside from reporting it, she cannot do anything about it.

“When there’s information like that, but with no ability to enforce access to guns being limited, in an acute situation, then there’s nothing we can do so when there is something that can be done in that way, it can help improve safety towards a person’s self, or others,” Mcdermott said.

Mcdermott does want the public and city leaders to remember one thing as this ordinance is being discussed.

“Laws like this, ordinances like this, should not be based on the idea that people with mental illness are more violent. That’s something that’s statistically been proven not to be true. People who have diagnosable mental illness are actually more susceptible to violence by other people, more likely to be victims of violence than to commit it,” Mcdermott said.

Ultimately, Benjamin says they want to get this right by looking at all laws and avenues. That is why it is not up for a vote yet.

“It’s the type of issue that since it can be pretty significant and controversial, we want to make sure there’s some consensus around it,” Benjamin said.

There is no time frame yet of when this ordinance would be voted on, if at all.

We reached out to Columbia Police Officials who say they will comment at an appropriate time but did state that they have provided continued in-service training for officers such as crisis intervention training and dealing with the mentally ill.

There was a similar measure up for debate by state representatives this past session.

It would establish criteria for a warrant that would remove firearms should people pose a risk of imminent personal injury to themselves or others, but the bill remained in the judiciary committee.

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