The hearing was called after the state legislature changed the rules on where those with concealed weapons permit can carry a gun.
However, it is now up to each individual county to adopt regulations that might restrict if and where concealed weapons can be carried on county property.
“Even if we don’t want to do anything other that what we’ve already got,” said County Attorney John Kilby during a December commission worksession, “this law wiped all the slates clean. If you want to regulate it (concealed weapons) at all, you have to pass new ordinances, even if you want it to remain the same.”
County-owned athletic fields and parks were the primary focus of the comments during the public hearing held at the courthouse.
One of the nine county residents who spoke in favor of allowing concealed weapons into county-owned public parks was a local firearms instructor.
“If we’re not allowed to carry in parks, and somebody decides to go off their rocker, there will be nobody there that could possibly stop anything,” said Charles Young, a concealed carry weapon instructor. “I’d hate to be the one that said I left my firearm in my truck because the county said I couldn’t carry it, and I could have done something.”
Ashe County Parks and Recreation Director Rita Prevette, who spoke against allowing weapons into county parks, said she her concerns were focused on the safety of children inside county parks.
“Although, some of our patrons that visit the park have concealed carry permits, sometimes, when they’re there as a fan, or a parent…they become heated,” said Prevette. “They often lose their composure and act out of character; we’ve witnessed that on several occasions. My concern is, if they have a gun that is easily available, then the danger of the firearms far outweigh the conditions to warrant those firearms in the park.”
Prevette said there had been no gun related incidents in Ashe County Parks in the four and half years she has been employed by the department.
Ashe County Parks and Recreation Administrative Coordinator Missy Parker echoed Prevette’s statement and said, though she herself is a concealed carry weapon permit holder, “It’s just one of those things, if it’s (a gun) convenient, there’s going to be a hazard there. We certainly don’t want to put the youths of Ashe County in that kind of position.”
Concealed carry weapons instructors Phil Rhyne and Charles Young presented their arguments for carrying concealed weapons on county property.
“We think that everyone that has a permit has enough training and forethought to realize the responsiblity of carrying concealed,” said Young. “The chances of a person that has a CCW permit actually committing a crime is very, very low.
“Anyone that goes through the trouble, expense, and training of getting CCW permit, are the same people that are concerned with public safety, and their family’s safety,” said Rhyne.
“If somebody is threatening children, or gets angry at a sporting event, if you’ve got a parent there with a gun, you’ve got no control over the situation,” said Ashe County Board of Commissioners Chair Judy Poe. “I think the county needs one (an ordinance) at the playgrounds. I think we had also discussed keeping a weapon locked in your car within 100 yards of an athletic field.”
Poe, herself a CCW permit holder, said she trips by herself to Raleigh and Asheville influenced her decision to earn her concealed carry permit.
Current debate centers around NC House Bill 650 that went into effect on Dec. 1. The state’s ‘Castle Doctrine’ was expanded to allow state residents to protect themselves with deadly force at home, in their motor vehicle, and place of work. The law also expanded areas CCW permit holders could carry their weapon including state parks, but exclude swimming pools, playgrounds, and athletic facilities.
According to Ashe County Attorney John Kilby, HB 650 also supercedes current county concealed weapon ordinances and forces commissioners to pass a new ordinance, even if they are essentially passing current ordinances.
Kilby said the county could write a new ordinance that would cover county buildings in a general way, but the law would have to be specific as to the property the commissioners want to regulate.
“This is still sort of up in the air,” said Kilby, who said Forsyth County may face legal action because their ordinances were too broad, and perhaps wrote their ordinances to prohibit concealed carry weapons from areas they could not legally do so.
940 permit holders in Ashe
Sandra Prange, Ashe County Sheriffs Office Gun Permit Coordinator, said there are 940 holders of CCW permits in the county. The process to receive a permit is lengthy, according to Prange.
After a firearms certification class taught by a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation trained instructor, residents can apply for a permit in the county they’ve lived in for the last 30 days. Applicants supply a birth certificate, proof of 911 address, and military discharge documents, including a DD-214. A background check is then performed that uncovers traffic, civil, and criminal charges.
A Dec. 26 article in the New York Times (Guns in Public, Out of Sight) by Michael Luo, examined law violations by North Carolina CCW holders and found, of 240,000 permit holders across the state, more than 2,400 permit holders were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors over a five-year period.
Of those 2,400 violations, over five years, 200 were felony convictions, or .00083 percent of all permit holders across the state. Of those violations, 10 permit holders were found guilty of murder or manslaughter, and all but two used a gun.
The commissioners only listened to the comments. They took no action.
Commissioners will conduct a second public hearing on Feb. 6, at 5:30 at Ashe County Courthouse.