In a 3-2 vote, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners killed a proposed ordinance that would have limited firearms on properties of Ashe County Parks and Recreation.
Commissioners Larry Rhodes and William Sands voted for the ordinance while Chair Gary Roark, Vice Chair Judy Porter Poe and commissioner Gerald Price voted against it.
Concerns over the ordinance dominated the public comment section of the meeting, which took place on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
“I really wanted to point out to you that you really need to be looking at this issue from the other end,” said Gene Maples, a Lansing resident. “The state law doesn’t require you to do anything.”
Maples said times had changed and there were significant numbers of people that felt the need to have concealed weapons.
The discussion of gun laws started in November when county attorney John Kilby told commissioners the state law would require changes in county ordinances. The proposed changes, which Kilby said would make the rules as strict as they could under the confines of N.C. law, made gun rights blogs including Grass Roots North Carolina state their opposition to the ordinance.
A suggested letter by Grass Roots North Carolina to send to Ashe County commissioners said “There’s no reason for Ashe County to enact bans. The ‘Wild West’ predictions of (Kilby) are unfounded. If you should decide to unnecessarily restrict lawful carry, common sense dictates you should avoid bans in areas that may conflict with state law.”
The proposed ordinance would have prevented firearms on athletic fields and other facilities owned by Ashe County Parks and Recreation including the gymnasium at Family Central as well as entrance areas, restrooms, bleachers, concession areas and sidelines.
With the vote to not adopt the ordinance, Ashe County does not have rules concerning concealed carry weapons in county parks.
Another concern was of the signage stating firearms are prohibited in parks. Scott Turnmyre, director of Ashe County’s Parks and Recreation, said the signs had been removed from Ashe County Park.
Andrew Stevens, a member of the GRNC legislative action team was at the meeting and expressed his concerns over the Board looking at what he called “gray areas” of the state law.
“Grass Roots North Carolina takes this matter really seriously, we worked hard with the state legislature to solidify the law and eliminate any gray areas that certain people think is available to manipulate the law to illegally prohibit in our words places where these firearms can be lawful to carry,” he said. “Grass Roots North Carolina will sue if jurisdictions explore those gray areas, no doubts about it. It’s a simple statement.”
GRNC have won battles over the now illegal signs in municipal parks in Asheville, Blowing Rock, Burlington, Raleigh and Winston-Salem. The signs in those towns have been removed.
Stevens said the organization would recover the legal fees from jurisdiction that loses cases that attempt to fight the law.
“We all expect citizens to comply with the laws that are written, we citizens expect the state and local governments to comply with the laws that are written for them as well,” he said.
When commissioners discussed the proposed ordinance, following the public comments, Sands and Rhodes both indicated they would vote in favor of the changes. Sands expressed concerns over concealed carry during sporting events when emotions from parents could be heightened.
“I have talked to parents and Parks and Recreation employees, and none of these people want firearms on those fields at that time,” Sands said.
Commissioner Price said he would not vote for anything that would limit the Second Amendment rights of Ashe County citizens.
“These people have been screened, they’ve had background checks and in my opinion they are the upper echelon of people in this county,” he said. “I feel much safer when there are guns around me than when there is not.”
In other business:
• The board unanimously approved appointments to the local emergency planning committee and a surplus property disposal resolution.
• The board was updated on an unanimously approved the monthly tax presentation presented by Ashe County Tax Administrator Keith Little.
• The board unanimously approved a proclamation designating Ashe County as a Purple Heart county in North Carolina.
• In attendance were: Larry Rhodes, William Sands, Chairman Gary Roark, Gerald Price and Vice Chair Judy Porter Poe.
Wil Petty may be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @wilpetty