The Winston-Salem City Council may amend the city code on Monday to loosen restrictions on carrying concealed handguns, but it won’t happen because council members like the idea.
Along with the new regulations, the council could adopt a resolution setting forth its strong disagreement with statewide concealed-carry regulations passed by the N.C. General Assembly this year. The regulations apply to people who have a legal permit to carry a concealed handgun, and take effect Oct. 1.
Under the new state law, local governments must allow people to carry concealed weapons on city park properties such as playgrounds, athletic fields outside of scheduled events, and on greenways, paths and open fields.
City Attorney Angela Carmon told council members during committee meetings last week that the city must update its code to comply with the changes in state law, or risk not having any regulations that cover recreational areas because the current law will no longer be in compliance with state law.
Council Member Dan Besse called the new law “ill-conceived, poorly written and not a reflection of majority public opinion in our community.”
“Most of my constituents do not wish to see more concealed weapons in more public places,” Besse said. Besse went on to describe how it would be possible for a toddler at a park to pull a gun from someone’s purse and fire it, and said that people will be “outraged to hear that they cannot go to a public park” without being in the presence of concealed handguns.
When the city council’s public safety committee talked about changing the city code last week to match up with the state’s new rules, it voted instead to recommend turning down the changes. That came on a committee motion by Council Member Wanda Merschel and backed by Council Member James Taylor. Vivian Burke, who chairs the committee, abstained and Derwin Montgomery was absent.
When the city’s general government committee dealt with the issue, members D.D. Adams, Besse and Molly Leight voted to send the code change to the city council with no recommendation. Taylor abstained, although he too had criticized the new law.
If the city does change its code, it will mark the second time over three years that it has done so in response to changing state legislation.
In 2011, the council ended a general prohibition of concealed weapons in parks, limiting the ban to the parks that had swimming pools, athletic fields or playgrounds -- categories that the state had allowed cities to continue to regulate.
This summer, the General Assembly narrowed the definition of areas where the guns could be banned -- in essence, allowing more areas where people with the proper permit could carry a concealed gun.
But city officials said last week that the proposed ordinance creates a new enforcement wrinkle: Although the city must allow concealed handguns on greenways, much of the property through which the greenways pass is still owned privately. All the city has is an easement for the greenway.
Carmon told council members that property owners could argue that when they gave the city an easement they didn’t intend to give up their rights to control whether guns were carried onto their property.
As a result, the city will post signs that tell gun owners of their potential liability should a property owner object to guns on the property. Carmon said later that a court may have to decide at some point whether a landowner signing over land for a greenway easement is also signing away the right to regulate firearms on the easement.
Merschel asked if the city could actually encourage property owners to put up the signs asking people not to bring guns, but the city attorney said that the city shouldn’t go that far.
Besse and Taylor made pains to say they are not against the right to own guns. Taylor said he is the holder of a concealed-carry permit.
“I am not against the Second Amendment,” Taylor said. “I am against the ability to carry concealed weapons into a park where we ask our children to play.”
If you go: The Winston-Salem City Council meets at 7 p.m. Monday in the council chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 101N. Main St.