Keep process in the open

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014

As county officials move toward relaxing local gun laws to conform with state changes, they need to shoot straight with citizens by keeping them informed about the need for the changes, what the changes will be and how they will apply to county employees as well as those who use parks and recreation sites or conduct business on county property.
It will also be important to hear the assessment of law-enforcement officers, park managers and building supervisors who will have a hand in implementing new rules. These changes aren’t being contemplated just here. Like Rowan, other counties are re-evaluating local firearm regulations concerning concealed-carry handguns in the wake of state changes that include allowing legally permitted concealed-carry weapons on greenways, playgrounds and other public recreation areas and in some government buildings.
For instance, Cherokee County removed its ban on carrying guns inside most of its government buildings. Anyone with a legal permit, including county employees, may carry a concealed handgun. However, guns are still banned inside the courthouse, local schools and the jail.
Alamance County has taken similar action, now allowing concealed handguns in any county building except courts. County workers can carry weapons but not in county vehicles, apparently because of potential liability issues.
This is not simply a Second Amendment rights issue. It’s also a public safety issue, a law-enforcement issue — and, potentially, an area where the county needs to ensure it won’t invite future liability claims. Most of the attention has focused on armed citizens. But what about county employees who have permits and want to carry concealed weapons to work? If allowed, do they need the approval of a supervisor as well as a legal permit? What about firefighters, EMS workers and others often rushing into chaotic situations? Social Service employees?
These are questions that need a thorough public airing. Unfortunately, one might have drawn a different impression from a comment during a subcommittee meeting of the Rowan County Planning Board, which has been tasked with reviewing these ordinances. Expressing confidence the county will ease regulations in line with state law, board member Larry Wright said, “The way you will know is that they probably won’t announce anything — but maybe a couple months later, you will come in and there won’t be a sign (prohibiting guns) down there and you can be armed.”
Obviously, the county doesn’t want to appear to be urging people to pack heat when conducting government business or playing in the park. But this issue deserves more than rubber-stamp approval and stealthy implementation. The guns may legally be concealed, but the statutory changes need to take place in plain view, with citizens kept fully informed.