In a 4-1 vote on Monday, May 5, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners banned unconcealed, or open carry, weapons on all Ashe County Parks and Recreation facilities.
Commissioner Judy Porter Poe made the motion, which was passed by her and Commissioners Larry Rhodes, William Sands and Gary Roark. Commissioner Gerald Price opposed the motion.
Unconcealed weapons were already not allowed within 100 yards of athletic fields, refreshment stands and other parts of the park properties. The motion expanded the law to include all park properties.
County Attorney John Kilby said open carry would still have to be allowed for law enforcement and others whom are granted that permission by North Carolina statutes.
“There would be no open carry anywhere in the park, no matter if it was a playground or open field,” Poe said.
After making the motion, Rhodes then asked how that motion differs from the previously-passed motion.
County Parks and Recreation Director Scott Turnmyre then spoke suggesting that the motion Poe made was not necessary.
“If we consider a disc golf course as an athletic facility and the proximity of our playgrounds and athletic fields within the park, there is absolutely nowhere just based on the ordinance we currently have, that you could carry in the park,” he said. “About 80 percent of the park is covered by that disc golf course and we have All-Star field almost at the geographic center of the park.”
Poe clarified that her motion was no open carry in any of the parks.
Roark then asked Kilby if this passed, would it affect the rights of property owners who reside near the parks, to which Kilby said no.
“The ordinance can only apply to the boundaries of the park,” Kilby said. “We don’t have any authority to regulate outside the boundaries of the park.”
Building up to the vote
In April 2014, the commissioners asked Kilby to present to them in May a clarification of the county’s current gun ordinance after an attempt to modify the ordinance failed in January 2014.
At the Jan. 21, 2014, meeting of the board, the commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, rejected a motion which would have banned all firearms on athletic fields and certain other facilities including the gymnasium at Family Central, entrance areas, restrooms, concession areas and sidelines. Sands and Rhodes voted for the ordinance while Poe, Price and Roark voted against.
“Given the new law, it was my opinion that ours was considerably more strict than was allowed under the state law,” Kilby said, referencing changes last year in the state legislature’s gun laws. “My opinion at the time was, and still is, that the new state law basically had the effect of nullifying the part of our ordinance concerning the carrying of concealed weapons.”
Kilby said that as the law stood in the county, before the May 5 vote, concealed weapons were allowed in all areas of the park, while unconcealed weapons were not allowed near the parks and recreation’s athletic facilities.
“My opinion is the portion of the ordinance that applied to unconcealed weapons or open carry, is still in effect,” he said.
Price then asked if the commissioners could strike down any ordinance that prevents weapons in parks and recreational areas, to which Kilby said yes.
Roark asked if there were restrictions for open carry and unconcealed weapons that applied to the athletic fields within the parks, and Kilby said yes.
“The portion of the ordinance that applied to the concealed carry was nullified by the state law,” Kilby said. “The state law did not apply to unconcealed weapons, so we could restrict that in whatever way we chose, and we had already chosen to do that in the same ordinance.”
After the update from Kilby about the county’s existing gun ordinance, Price made a motion to allow all guns on the county’s park properties. Roark seconded the motion. The final vote was 1-4, with all commissioners, except Price, dissenting.
Poe said, before that vote, she thought the Commissioners had made it clear that concealed weapons were allowed in all parts of the park, but she was opposed to having open carry throughout the park properties.
Sands, also before the vote, emphasized he did not want to infringe upon people’s Second Amendment rights, but indicated he would vote against Price’s motion.
Commissioners and the attorney were confused about the motion made by Price, so he then specified what the motion meant.
“If the concealed weapon is permitted at any specific location, then the open carry is permitted at that same location,” he said.
Roark then asked if anyone off the street could show up to the park in areas where concealed carry is allowed, mentioning that those carrying unconcealed weapons had not been checked or verified.
Price then said that was how he believed the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the rights of the public to bear arms.
“I don’t agree with anyone off the street carrying an open-carry handgun and just walking in, coming to a park where a game is going on,” Roark said. “People have been checked out with concealed carry. I think that (Price’s motion) may be going a little bit too far.”
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.