- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - When the city of Columbia temporarily banned guns around the Statehouse as the Confederate flag was lowered, it violated the U.S. Constitution and created a dangerous situation, a Lexington County man says in a lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Richland County, attorneys for Walid Hakim wrote that the city’s ban on firearms within 250 feet of the Statehouse isn’t lawful because it affects people who are just driving by the complex on one of the city’s major thoroughfares. Also, it says, workers in nearby office buildings where concealed carry is permitted are unconstitutionally affected by the ban.

The city council enacted the emergency ban July 9, a day before thousands gathered at the Statehouse to watch state troopers lower the Confederate battle flag from a pole near a monument to Confederate soldiers and move it to a museum.

Weapons already are prohibited at the Statehouse complex, but city leaders said they enacted the temporary ban near the grounds to safeguard against violence during protests. It’s set to expire next month.

A North Carolina-based Ku Klux Klan group plans to rally Saturday at the Statehouse to support the Confederate flag, which was removed three weeks after nine parishioners were shot to death at a historic black church in Charleston. The victims included its pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. A 21-year-old white man who posed for online photos with the Confederate flag faces nine murder charges.

In the lawsuit, Hakim’s attorneys say the city gave no reason for the 250-foot distance, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

Hakim, who has a concealed weapons permit, said the ban infringes on his right to protect himself near the Statehouse.

“I’m just hoping that our lawmakers stop breaking the law in order to protect us,” Hakim said in a written statement provided to The Associated Press. “If our leaders do not follow state law, then where is the incentive for ordinary citizens to do so?”

The ordinance is based on vague state law that doesn’t define “dangerous weapon,” Hakim’s lawyers argue, saying it could prohibit workers at restaurants within the 250-foot radius from carrying cooking utensils and knives needed for their jobs.

The lawsuit, first reported by The State newspaper, asks a judge to declare the ordinance unconstitutional and to prohibit the city from enforcing it. City officials declined to discuss the pending litigation.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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