The president of a prominent South Carolina gun rights group said Friday that an emergency Columbia city ordinance enacted last week to allow police to quickly arrest armed and dangerous people is not lawful.
But a council member said members had checked state law and determined that they were allowed to pass the temporary ordinance.
Council passed the measure Thursday night after hearing warnings from law enforcement that demonstrations relating to the Confederate flag at the State House might attract violent gun-toting people and groups that might do harm.
“It’s illegal,” said Gerald Stoudemire, president of the Gun Owners of South Carolina, who teaches concealed weapons classes, runs a gun shop and has testified on gun laws before various S.C. House and Senate committees.
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Stoudemire, 68, said the new city ordinance flies in the face of a state law that says local governments cannot pass ordinances that put more restrictions on firearms than state law.
The city’s emergency ordinance, passed Thursday night, made illegal the carrying of firearms by citizens within 250 feet of the State House. The ordinance will expire around Aug. 9. It basically gives police the right within that zone to check out people they think might be carrying concealed weapons and arrest them if they are.
Council members passed the ordinance after hearing from city police Chief Skip Holbrook that police intelligence units were picking up information that various “hate groups” whose members are known to carry weapons might converge on Columbia for Friday’s lowering of the Confederate flag ceremony.
Police are also concerned that armed and potentially violent people will show up at a planned July 18 Ku Klux Klan rally at the State House, according to the ordinance passed by city council.
While state law prohibits the carrying of firearms by citizens on State House grounds, state law currently allows people to carry guns – including concealed guns if they have a permit – just off State House grounds, Stoudemire said. Thus, council’s action to restrict the rights of people to carry guns around the State House property goes further than state law and is illegal, Stoudemire said.
Council member Tameika Isaac Devine said that city council had weighed Stoudemire’s concern as well as the section of state law to which he is referring.
Devine said city officials determined that under state law, city council does have the right to pass emergency measures when health and safety are at stake.
“We can do this on a temporary basis, but we couldn’t do a permanent basis,” she said.
The ordinance will expire after 30 days, unless council extends it, she said.
“It depends on how things go in the next 30 days, what law enforcement is picking up on the Internet,” she said. “I’m hopeful that we will just let it expire.”
“Irregardless – for one day, it’s illegal,” Stoudemire said.
Stoudemire said he intends to ask a lawmaker to get an attorney general’s opinion on whether the ordinance is legal. Previous attorney general opinions support his position, he said.
Stoudemire also warned that the city might get sued and have to pay damages if it wrongfully arrests someone who has the right to carry a concealed weapon.
“It’s going to look bad if they arrest somebody and they sue the city,” Stoudemire said. “I figure the first fellow who gets arrested, he’s going to be asking for some big figures.”
Under the ordinance, anyone arrested and convicted of carrying a weapon in the prohibited zone would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be fined up to $500 and put in jail for 30 days.
After Friday’s Confederate flag lowering at State House grounds, Holbrook told The State newspaper that no one had been arrested. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel also said officers had made no arrests.