Columbia outlaws open carry of guns at city-permitted events

·3 min read

The city of Columbia will not allow the open carry of firearms at city-permitted events such as protests and festivals.

Columbia City Council unanimously passed a resolution on the gun issue at a Sept. 7 meeting. The move comes after the state Legislature passed a law earlier this year that allows people with concealed weapons permits to openly carry their weapons.

Columbia’s measure says that all city permits for organized events such as public rallies, parades, protests, festivals or fairs — shall come with a prohibition on the open carrying of guns in the designated area of a given event and for the duration of such an event.

A subsection of the state law allows for local governments to prohibit the open carrying of guns during events.

“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 law reads. The state law says local governments “must be specific in the area, duration, and manner” in which they apply the gun restrictions.

The city’s measure also prohibits the carrying of guns of any kind into city-owned buildings and work places without the written permission of the city manager or police chief. State law says public and private employers can prohibit the carrying of guns in the workplace.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the city “actively and openly” opposed the passage of the open carry bill in the Legislature. He said he thought it was prudent to take advantage of the subsection of the law allowing for guns to be prohibited at certain events.

“It was important, because I firmly believe it keeps people safer,” Benjamin said. “I know the data shows very clearly that concealed weapons permit holders, those who go through the process, are incredibly responsible with the use of firearms, and I’m thankful for that. But, the ability for a good, hard-working police officer to be able to ascertain who’s who when someone has a sidearm on fully exposed is very difficult.”

Columbia has never been shy about passing measures related to guns.

In 2017, it was the first city in the nation to ban bump stocks, which are devices that can be added to guns to make them operate like automatic weapons.

Then in 2019, the city adopted three gun ordinances that would ultimately land it in court. One of them added homemade “ghost guns” to the city’s nuisance ordinance. Another allowed for the seizure of guns from people under an extreme risk protection order. And the third prohibits the possession of guns within 1,000 feet of a school.

Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the city over the 2019 measures, saying they overreached the city’s ability to regulate guns. In May state Judge Jocelyn Newman ruled in the attorney general’s favor.

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