Kannapolis to limit handguns in parks

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 14, 2012

By Hugh Fisher
KANNAPOLIS – The N.C. General Assembly voted last year to widen concealed-carry permit holders’ rights to bring firearms to public places, including city and state parks.
Now, Kannapolis has joined other cities in limiting where those concealed handguns may be carried.
The Kannapolis City Council unanimously approved a proposed ordinance presented by city staff members earlier this week.
Under the new law, concealed-carry firearms are banned anywhere within 20 feet of certain “recreational areas,” as defined under state law.
For Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills, this law is “the better of the two choices.”
But, he said, the members of Kannapolis’ Parks and Recreation Commission had favored a continued blanket ban on firearms in city parks.
“You open up an opportunity for something to go wrong when you allow weapons in the park,” he said.
Since N.C.’s concealed-carry law went into effect in 1995, cities and towns had been allowed to ban concealed weapons throughout their parks.
Then, last December, Gov. Beverly Perdue signed a law that expanded the areas where permit holders could carry a concealed handgun.
Now, cities cannot issue a blanket ban, but they may opt to ban concealed weapons within 20 feet of “recreational facilities.”
Those are specifically defined as playgrounds, pools, and athletic fields and facilities.
In response, gun control groups began lobbying cities to pass such laws, Mills said.
This leads to an interesting situation in Kannapolis, where parks have a mix of such facilities.
Most areas of Village Park, a few blocks from downtown Kannapolis, would be covered by the ban, Mills said.
“You can’t (have a concealed weapon) at the Splash Pad or the playground,” Mills said.
The train ride would be off-limits, too, “because it goes within 20 feet of the playground,” he said.
“The concert lawn is off-limits during a concert, because we serve alcohol,” Mills said.
And, he said, although the picnic shelter closest to the playground would fall under the restriction, the other shelters may not.
The situation is different at Safrit Park, Mills said.
Concealed weapons would effectively be banned from the park, he said, because it’s almost entirely composed of athletic fields and play areas.
But the city’s greenways, which are part of the park system, will not be affected because they don’t contain any of the specified “recreational areas.”
Mills said that if a weapon is reported in the park, staff or law enforcement will respond accordingly.
But, he said, there won’t be any searches geared toward finding concealed handguns.
“Enforcement will be an issue,” Mills said. “It’s not as easy as finding someone smoking.” A ban on tobacco use in Kannapolis parks went into effect in March.
Mills said his concern is not whether or not someone carries a concealed firearm at all, but the fact that accidents can happen.
“If the person with the concealed weapon gets into an argument, let’s say he shoots and misses, and hits a child,” Mills said.
“Is it likely to happen? No. But could it happen? Yes,” Mills said.
Other city leaders agreed.
Councilman Tom Kincaid told the Post that he’s a concealed-carry permit holder and an advocate of gun owners’ rights.
But, Kincaid said, there’s no real reason to carry a concealed weapon in the city’s parks, which are patrolled by Kannapolis Police and generally safe.
“Guns and parks don’t mix, and we’ve got to look out for the safety of our children,” Kincaid said.City Manager Mike Legg agreed that the new regulation “raises some enforcement issues,” but also said he expects most gun owners will abide by the law.
“The ones who get the permits aren’t really the ones you have to worry about,” Legg said.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.