Inside County Government

Mecklenburg commissioner wants to allow concealed weapons for county employees

One week after the mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., law enforcement officials escort groups of individuals outside the building on Dec. 9.
One week after the mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., law enforcement officials escort groups of individuals outside the building on Dec. 9. Los Angeles Times/TNS

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, a former Marine who owns guns, believes county employees with concealed carry permits should be able to take their firearms into county buildings as protection. Others are unsure that’s a good idea.

Questions over whether the county would ease rules that ban bringing guns into county facilities came after officials said they would offer employees active shooter training. That was their response to the shooting deaths of 14 county workers in San Bernardino, Calif., earlier this month.

The county says it has no plans to change its policies or ask the board of county commissioners to take up the issue. Commissioners last weighed in on gun policy in 2013 when they eliminated some restrictions for guns at county parks.

But Ridenhour feels strongly about what latitude should be given to employees who legally carry.

“In a situation where you’ve got an active shooter, seconds count,” he said, calling concealed carry permit holders “the most responsible of gun owners” because of the stringent background checks, classroom and range training required by state law.

While he praised the county’s move to offer active shooter training, Ridenhour said many of those classes now teach workers to fight or confuse their attackers if they are unable to run or hide. If that’s the case, armed employees might stand a better chance against a gunman, he said.

Commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller disagrees.

“I’m not one who believes that having more guns makes things safer,” Fuller said. “There are ways to make ourselves safer, which is why we’re doing (active shooter) training because ... we could limit the damage that’s done when these horrific events happen.”

Both scenarios have pros and cons, said Commissioner Bill James, who questioned whether letting county employees take guns to work would enhance safety, or embolden would-be terrorists.

“(He) was a county employee who had legally authorized firearms and went to a county facility,” said James, referencing Syed Farook, the San Bernardino County employee who with his wife opened fire on his co-workers. On the other hand, “if you don’t allow (employees) to carry, you run the risk that people can’t defend themselves.”

James believes high-tech security might offer the best solution. In the past, he’s suggested the county use biometric locks on its buildings. Those devices, which scan a user’s thumbprint or retina before allowing access, could replace employee swipe cards, which can be misplaced or stolen, he said.

“I haven’t really noticed that management has been interested in it,” he said. “They haven’t said no, but I haven’t heard if they’re serious about considering it.”

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