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Wednesday, 29 February 2012 21:39

Guns and greenways don’t mix in Waynesville, but state may say differently

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Waynesville leaders are looking for a way to keep guns out of town parks and recreation centers despite changes in the state’s conceal carry law that allow guns in more places than before.

A new state law stipulating where concealed weapons can and can’t be carried seem to leave a gray area when it comes to town parks. The town of Waynesville has always banned concealed weapons at town parks and would like to keep doing so but likewise doesn’t want to go against the new state law.

The law passed last year prevents concealed guns from being carried in recreational and athletic facilities and schools. And, under the law, weapons are legally allowed in some formerly prohibited places such as bars and state parks. While the state tried to be specific where guns are banned, however, the verbiage is ambiguous in some respects.

“There are a lot of questions in our mind, ‘what is an athletic facility? Is a dog park an athletic facility?’” said Town Manager Lee Galloway during a meeting with town leaders earlier this month.

The town’s recreation center on Vance Street and the nearby baseball and soccer fields could be classified as athletic facilities and still ban weapons. The dog park, which is completely surrounded by athletic facilities, would also remain gun free.

Prior to the state law change, Waynesville already had an ordinance in place that prevented people from carrying concealed weapons in town parks.

Several North Carolina communities, including Blowing Rock and Hickory, have begun to question the legislature’s decision, he said. Some town boards have decided not to loosen their ordinances to fall in line with the state.

“It has pretty well been concluded that this will end up in court at some point,” Galloway said.

Mayor Gavin Brown asked the town attorney to draft an ordinance even though a likely court battle over the legislation would leave a final outcome up in the air. And, if the town passes the new ordinance before the matter is resolved, the board can simply adjust it as needed.

“We can change the ordinance” if necessary, Brown said.

Despite any arguments over gun rights, the fact remains that neither Waynesville nor any town in North Carolina has had a problem with permitted gun-toting individuals. Those with permits generally obey the law with respects to their weapons and only use it for protection.

Police Chief Bill Hollingsed said he could not find incidents involving a permitted carrier using a gun at a sporting event or in a park.

“I can’t say that we have a big problem with this; we can’t find any city in the state that has a problem with this,” Hollingsed said.

The people that the town and police need to be concerned about are those who do not have permits but carry a weapon anyway, the town board agreed. The law will not prevent that individual from committing a crime.

“You worry about the people who are going to carry a concealed weapon no matter what the law is,” Hollingsed said.

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