Gun rights group sues Winston-Salem over weapons ban in parks

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Winston-Salem Journal) — A statewide gun-rights group is suing the city of Winston-Salem over its ordinance banning concealed handguns in 52 of the city’s 69 parks, saying it effectively violates the Second Amendment’s constitutional right to bear arms.

Rights Watch International filed the lawsuit Jan. 8 in Forsyth Superior Court on behalf of three Winston-Salem residents and a High Point resident who works in Winston-Salem. The lawsuit names the city of Winston-Salem and the city’s recreation and parks department as defendants, as well as Mayor Allen Joines and Tim Grant, the city’s recreation and parks director.

The lawsuit alleges that combined with the city’s prohibition of unconcealed handguns in the city’s parks, the city’s ban on concealed weapons amounts to an outright violation of the Second Amendment. The lawsuit also alleges that the ordinance adopted by the Winston-Salem City Council in November 2011 is illegal under state law and is too vague, resulting in confusion among Winston-Salem residents.

“Disregarding (state law) and the Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, the Defendants have illegally imposed restrictions on a citizen’s right to possess or carry a concealed handgun in city parks, lakes, greenways and other property in excess of the authority delegated to the defendants” by the N.C. General Assembly, the lawsuit said.

The city council amended its ordinance after the legislature passed a law allowing concealed handguns in parks. The law also made an exemption for local governments to limit concealed handguns in parks that had athletic fields, athletic facilities, playgrounds and swimming pool, and city officials changed the ordinance to prohibit concealed handguns in parks that fit that criteria. In parks that don’t include those four things, people could carry a concealed handgun.

Dan Hardway, the attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Joines and Grant could not be reached for comment Monday. City Manager Lee Garrity referred all questions to City Attorney Angela Carmon.

Carmon said state legislators left it up to local governments to define athletic fields, athletic facilities, playgrounds and swimming pools. The ordinance does that, she said.

But the lawsuit said three Winston-Salem residents – David V. Phillips, Shannon West and Christopher Hjelm – and David D. Childs, a High Point resident who works in Winston-Salem, have had to limit their visits to the city’s parks because city officials haven’t made it clear where concealed weapons are prohibited and where they are not.

According to the lawsuit, city officials have been inconsistent in posting the recreational facilities where concealed handguns are prohibited and in some instances, “entire parks have been posted and concealed handguns prohibited.”

Childs, for example, was told by a city parks official that no listing of the restricted areas is available, then was told by a Winston-Salem police officer that he would be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor “if he has a concealed handgun in the restricted area as determined by the City,” the lawsuit said.

Carmon said the ordinance is clear and city officials have posted the places where concealed handguns are not allowed.

“I think it’s clear that you can’t carry concealed handguns, consistent with enabling legislation, in athletic fields, athletic facilities or playgrounds within the parks that are listed in the ordinance,” she said.

The ordinance allows people with concealed-handgun permits to keep guns in their trunks, glove boxes or another enclosed compartment in their locked vehicles in the parks’ parking lot.

The lawsuit asks for an injunction against enforcing the ordinance and an order that city officials not implement any other ordinance or law that prohibits the possession or carrying of firearms “in excess of those prohibitions specifically allowed” by state law. The suit also asks a judge to order the city to remove signs and to not post signs prohibiting concealed or non-concealed handguns at any city facility “where such posting is in excess of the authority granted to the city by the General Assembly and/or are in violation of the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.”

Source: Winston-Salem Journal