Weapons ban ahead of Ku Klux Klan rally unconstitutional, AG’s office says

The state Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion that the city of Columbia’s 30-day weapons ban amid protests over the Confederate flag at the Statehouse and ahead of a Ku Klux Klan rally would’ve been ruled unconstitutional.

COLUMBIA — City officials violated state law by temporarily banning firearms near the Capitol to prevent violence during volatile rallies over removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

With the Ku Klux Klan and Black Educators for Justice, a group affiliated with the New Black Panthers, scheduled to hold rallies on July 18, Columbia City Council on July 9 passed an ordinance banning concealed weapons within 250 feet of the Capitol Complex for 30 days.

Robert Cook, solicitor general in the Attorney General’s Office, said a court would have found the ban unconstitutional under state law which bars local officials from regulating firearms except in emergencies.

“We understand certainly the motive of the Columbia City Council in adopting the ordinance — to prevent violence,” the opinion read. “However, where the conduct being regulated by the ordinance is also prohibited by state law, the punishment under state law is much more severe. Our Supreme Court has concluded that such conflicts are unconstitutional.”

Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, introduced a bill currently in a Senate committee that seeks to clean up and clarify that law, including stipulating that only the governor could specify what an emergency is. He said the state law was passed to prevent overbearing local government.

“That’s really not an emergency situation down there,” Pitts said. “It’s under control. Nobody has had any problems. I think that was a prime example of why that law was put in place.”

The council repealed the ban on Tuesday, but not before a Lexington man sued the city claiming the ban was unconstitutional, according to WACH-TV. Pitts added that he will also continue to push for clarifying the law when the Legislature returns in January.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.