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Mecklenburg board rejects looser gun rule for parks

An amendment to a proposed county ordinance that would relax some restrictions on concealed handguns in Mecklenburg parks failed to win a majority of county commissioner votes Tuesday. It will be considered again with at least two other proposals.

The amendment – proposed by Mecklenburg commissioner Matthew Ridenhour – would bar permit holders from carrying concealed weapons only on playgrounds or if they are contestants on athletic fields, gyms or swimming pools.

Ridenhour’s proposal came after commissioners received dozens of emails from permit holders and gun rights advocates complaining that the proposed ordinance from county staff was too restrictive. The ordinance, which the board considered last month, would generally bar concealed weapons from developed areas such as playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming pools and other areas in Mecklenburg parks.

However, the board’s vote on Ridenhour’s amendment was deadlocked at 4-4, with Vice Chair Kim Ratliff absent Tuesday.

In 2011, state lawmakers approved legislation allowing concealed gun permit holders to carry handguns anywhere in parks. But it allowed local and county governments to restrict the weapons in some recreational areas.

Jim Garges, Mecklenburg Park and Recreation director, told commissioners that 20 crimes were committed in Mecklenburg parks since 2011.

“The crime in our parks is extremely low,” Garges said. “The vast majority of people don’t carry weapons in our parks.” He said the proposed restrictions “are in the best interest all the people of Mecklenburg County.”

Ridenhour proposed loosening the bans because “they are too restrictive to those people who have gone the extra mile to carry concealed handguns.”

He said the nearly 19,000 Mecklenburg residents with concealed gun permits have taken an eight-hour class on firearms laws and safety, passed written and shooting tests, been fingerprinted and undergone background checks.

“My amendment allows those who have gone through the training and courses and the necessary background checks to carry concealed handguns in parks legally without being too restrictive,” Ridenhour said before the meeting.

He added that under the county’s proposed ordinance, people jogging on greenways would have to lock their weapons in their car “to go inside a recreation center to use the restroom.”

Commissioner George Dunlap said he was concerned Ridenhour’s ban would only be on participants at athletic events, not spectators.

“I want to be responsible and I am not one to restrict,” Dunlap said. “I am willing to compromise, but it’s not always the participant that causes the problems.”

Second chance for idea

In the end, the board decided to tackle the issue again at its May 7 meeting.

Commissioners instructed County Attorney Marvin Bethune to write three or four different proposals. They could:

• Approve Ridenhour’s amendment.

• Approve his amendment, but also restrict spectators from carrying concealed weapons at sporting events in county parks, as Dunlap suggested.

• Approve the county staff’s more restrictive proposal.

• Or let the state law govern the issue, with no restrictions on carrying concealed guns in parks. That was suggested by commissioner Karen Bentley, who has a permit to carry a concealed gun.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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