Winston-Salem wants gun-in-parks law repealed

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal) — Guns in local parks, and the question of what government – city or state – should regulate them, came up Monday night at a public meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council.

The council members approved a long list of items that they want the state General Assembly to pay attention to during the next legislative session. On the list was the city council’s push to repeal a state law enacted in December 2011 that allows people in North Carolina with gun permits to carry those weapons in city and county parks.

At issue is a state law that came from state House Bill 650, which brought about broad changes on where guns may be carried. Among the changes, city and county governments were stripped of their ability to regulate guns in certain areas of parks, officials said before the meeting.

While the law allows local governments to prohibit guns on playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools and athletic facilities, it also allows gun owners with permits to carry the weapon in areas where they had been banned, including “passive areas” of parks, such as greenways.

“It’s a mixed bag, and it’s confusing,” Mayor Allen Joines said before the meeting. “The legislature pre-empted local governments’ authority to control local parks. I think they should leave that up to us.”

Council Member Derwin Montgomery said before the meeting that he supports the right to bear arms, “but local governments have a right to regulate the time and place” they’re carried.

Joines, aware that any effort to repeal the law will be difficult, referred to the shootings in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were massacred by a single gunman and which happened after the city council was considering the legislative item concerning guns in parks.

“I would hope that the event in the last few days will heighten everyone’s awareness on the issue,” he said.

In other action, some of the issues the city council discussed included car-rental taxes and school safety, and the council members heard from area residents concerned about campaign financing:

— On the legislative agenda was a request for permission from the legislature to increase the tax charged by car-rental companies to boost revenue for Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, or PART, which runs bus service in the region.

Because of a downturn in business and leisure travel, city reports show, fewer car rentals are occurring and a lower amount of car rental taxes are being generated. Car-rental tax revenue is a “significant component” of the authority’s revenues and has declining significantly, according to the city report.

The city council asked for the rate to increase from 5 percent to 8 percent.

Some council members referred to the shootings in Connecticut to publicly criticize the Forsyth County government and Sheriff’s Office. Among them, Wanda Merschel, specifically referring to the Forsyth County government and county Sheriff’s Office, called them out for not contributing money toward a program used in certain city-county public schools to maintain safety through the use of cameras.

People affiliated with Occupy Winston-Salem and other groups asked the city council to support a resolution next month against the 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Citizens United case, which lifted a ban on corporations and unions to donate unlimited amounts of money to candidates as long as they don’t coordinate with them.

Council Member James Taylor said he has submitted his own resolution on Citizens United for future consideration.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal