CHAPEL HILL – A pro-firearms rights organization is threatening to sue the Town of Chapel Hill if laws regarding concealed weapons aren’t updated to comply with the State’s looser legislation passed last year.
In July of 2013, Governor Pat McCrory approved and signed House Bill 937 which limited the Town’s ability to prohibit people from carrying concealed handguns in Town owned buildings and the surrounding property, green ways, and recreational facilities, such as playgrounds, athletic fields, and swimming pools.
These changes, which counter the Town’s historical stance of restrictive legislation against concealed weapons, went into effect on October 1.
Andy Stevens of Grassroots North Carolina, a group which seeks to ensure that local municipalities adhere to the State’s new regulations, said that the Town’s revised statute was trying to “blanket” the fact that it will not be in compliance with State law.
Stevens said that the only time the Town can prohibit carrying concealed firearms on recreational fields is when the Town itself schedules the field for use.
“One of the reasons why we had to go to the legislature is because municipalities want to redefine words and make swimming pools into lakes and vice versa. The language is very specific, and your ordinance as written is not in compliance. Should you move to enact that into law, then Grassroots North Carolina will find it necessary to file a lawsuit,” Stevens said.
On the opposite side of the debate, several community members shared their frustration over the State’s regulations with the Council.
Kaaren Haldeman, the North Carolina Chapter Leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, shared that one child is shot every 30 minutes in the United States.
“Review of the last 20 years of literature concludes that more guns in more places mean more gun injury and more gun death,” Haldeman said.
Councilwoman Maria Palmer, who made a motion to approve the revised statute, said the Council needed to find ways to apply the law as narrowly as possible.
“I am all in favor of saying that we will direct our citizens to enforce our ordinances that we have in place,” Palmer said. “If certain citizens want to sue us, they can sue us, but we are going to protect our children until we figure out what is the least we need to do.”
Councilwoman Sally Greene said the Town’s regulations have not come into compliance and cautioned against acting prematurely.
“We really need to get a better handle of the legal parameters of what we can do here,” Greene said. “I would be hesitant to pass this resolution until we know more about what we will actually be doing.”
The council decided to delay a vote and asked Town Staff to review the compliance questions that were raised in the context of making the guns laws as narrow as legally possible.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, who participates in Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said the Council will provide ample notice to the community of when the item will appear again.
“If you accept my reasoning for delay, it is so we can make this stronger, and so that we can make sure that there is as narrow as possible application of this State statute. This is a community that has been struggling to enact reasonable gun regulations for decades,” Kleinschmidt said.
Another option Councilman Lee Storrow suggested was “creative signage” that could relay the community’s expectations on firearms while still reflecting the change in North Carolina Law.