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Columbia mayor explains why the city elected to ban guns at city-permitted events

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 10:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The City of Columbia will now ban open carry of firearms at city-permitted events like protests, festivals, and the popular Soda City Market on Main Street.

This comes on the heels of an open carry law that went into effect last month in South Carolina, the 46th state to pass similar legislation. It allows concealed weapons permit holders to carry their firearms openly in public or while in their car.

However, a subsection of the law allows for guns to be prohibited at certain events.

The text of the Open Carry with Training Act reads, “a governing body of a county, municipality, or political subdivision may temporarily restrict the otherwise lawful open carrying of a firearm on public property when a governing body issues a permit to allow a public protest, rally, fair, parade, festival, or other organized event.”

The Columbia City Council unanimously passed this measure at a meeting last week.

Mayor Steve Benjamin says he views this ordinance through the lens of public safety. Because Columbia, as the state capital, hosts many social events and protects, often bringing large crowds, he felt it was important to pass this measure.

“Right now we don’t need more guns, combined with drinking and events,” he said. “It just can turn into a really serious challenge for so many communities.”

The mayor says he’s a responsible gun owner and supporter of Second Amendment rights but doesn’t see the benefit of people brandishing firearms in potentially crowded situations.

“I understand that those who take the time to go through training to carry firearms are much more responsible with those firearms than others, and respect that, but in an abundance of caution, we thought that we should exercise the permission given to us by the State Legislature to try to do our very best to stop any potential conflicts,” Benjamin said.

The Columbia Police Department said their officers are trained on the open carry law, and their goal is to ensure citizens are complying with the new law and city ordinance. When an officer encounter someone openly carrying a firearm in a prohibited area, he or she explains the law and asks the person to safely secure their weapon. If a person refuses, officers can exercise arrest discretion.

Benjamin said the challenge of gun violence is uniquely American. He anticipates that more cities will take similar measures.

“We may be one of the first to pass this ordinance, but I suspect other communities around the state will also use the prerogative given to them by the Legislature to try and keep their communities safe during public events,” he said.

Benjamin opposed the passing of the open carry legislation due to what he calls “incredible confusion” it could cause for law enforcement officers to see people publicly brandishing firearms.

Columbia has taken a number of actions on guns in recent years. It passed a number of measures on the issue in 2019, one of which allowed for the seizure of guns from people under an extreme risk protection order.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson took the city to court over these measures, saying it had overstepped its power to regulate firearms. In May, state judge Jocelyn Newman ruled in favor of Wilson.

In addition, the city ordinance prohibits the carrying of guns into city-owned buildings and workplaces without written permission from the city manager or chief of police.

The Open Carry with Training Act also gives businesses the ability to prohibit firearms, either concealed or open, on their premises.

CPD made appropriate signage available to Columbia business owners prior to the law’s implementation, as the law stipulates that business owners must clearly display a sign indicating their decision to prohibit the carrying of a concealable weapon.

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