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Columbia looks to take action on guns in SC after shootings, school threat

In this file photo, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin delivers the State of the City address at City Hall.
In this file photo, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin delivers the State of the City address at City Hall. online@thestate.com

Columbia officials are considering proposals aimed at preventing gun violence in the city after a pair of mass shootings nationwide and a gun threat against a local school.

Columbia City Council on Tuesday discussed action that would make it easier for Columbia police to confiscate firearms from gun owners who are deemed to be an “extreme risk;” tighten restrictions on guns near schools; and pass a city hate crimes ordinance.

Washington “has mostly failed to act, so it’s important for local governments to act where it’s permissible,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Council members discussed the measures behind closed doors on Tuesday to receive advice from the city attorney, and no action was taken. But Benjamin said he expects the council to vote on the measures Aug. 20.

One change previously discussed by city council is introducing what Benjamin called “extreme risk protection orders.” The protection orders would allow Columbia police to confiscate weapons from gun owners who have been judged by a court to pose a risk to themselves or others.

The proposal is similar to a federal proposal by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, to introduce “red flag” legislation in the Senate. Graham’s proposal would start a federal grant program to help and encourage states to create protection orders meant to allow law enforcement to intervene in situations where there is “an imminent threat of violence.”

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Graham’s proposal is one of several to follow two mass shootings that killed at least 31 people over the weekend in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. On Monday, Graham’s proposal got the endorsement of President Donald Trump in his address responding to the killings.

Benjamin also wants the city to implement parts of the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which create penalties for unauthorized carrying of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school.

Tuesday’s discussion by the city council follows online threats by a Cardinal Newman School student that resulted in the student withdrawing from the private Catholic school and charged with making student threats earlier this summer. The school on Alpine Road is outside city limits.

Richland County sheriff’s deputies confiscated weapons from the home of the 16-year-old seen firing a rifle at a target he said represented a black man.

Though there is no single profile for school shooters, people at risk for hurting themselves or others often exhibit warning signs before committing acts of violence. Knowing the signs can help prevent crimes and get people the help they need.

Benjamin is also asking for an ordinance that would allow additional charges to be filed when an offense is motivated by hate.

“We’re working closely with the Anti-Defamation League on trying to put some real teeth into a hate crime order,” Benjamin said. “We’ve seen more and more people acting, and acting violently, on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity.”

Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.
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