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April 19, 2014

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Originally published: 2013-10-10 09:17:24
Last modified: 2013-10-10 09:18:09

Council votes to allow conceal-carry firearms in park

Jeff Eason

It was deja vu all over again.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council, commissioners voted 3-2 to amend the town code to comply with new state regulations and allow conceal-carry permit owners the right to carry guns into Blowing Rock Memorial Park.

Because the matter was decided by a 3-2 vote, the subject will be revisited at next month’s town council meeting.

The vote was similar to a vote in January 2012 when Commissioners Tommy Klutz, Dan Phillips and Jim Steele voted to allow guns in Memorial Park, Glen Burney Trail and Davant Baseball Field.

Those same three commissioners voted for Tuesday night’s amendment, while Commissioners Doug Matheson and Albert Yount voted against it.

In February 2012, when commissioners had to revisit the issue,  Steele changed his vote, disallowing guns in the park and other town properties.

The proposed new changes in the town code were in response to new state regulations that specifically allow conceal-carry permit owners to carry guns into playgrounds and onto ballparks during regularly scheduled games.

“From a staff perspective, we feel that it is consistent with state law,”  town planner Kevin Rothrock said.

Town attorney Allen Moseley added, “The state has essentially mandated local governments do this. It is not like we have a lot of discretion in terms of eliminating Memorial Park from those areas (now allowing guns).”

Two Blowing Rock residents spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting.

Wayne Green read from a prepared statement: “Allowing a concealed handgun owner to have his means of defending himself on his person, instead of making him run 50 yards to the parking lot at Davant (ball) Field, would make the facility safer because 50 yards is a long way to go when seconds count.

“We have previously discussed the fact that people with conceal-carry permits are well-trained, safe, responsible people. We have presented you with the information that they are one of the most law-abiding groups in the country, committing less crime than even police officers.

“Those of you against carrying guns may make a personal decision not to do so. Those of us who have taken the time to go through the training, as well as spending a not inconsiderable (amount of) money to get that training, and go through the rigid background checks that provide the sheriff with various information, feel we are the victims of discrimination.

“You may not agree, but then you may not agree that blacks were ever discriminated against either. That would be ironic, because most gun control laws have their roots in the old Jim Crow laws, trying to keep blacks unarmed.”

Green concluded his speech by saying that any move Blowing Rock made to keep guns out of Memorial Park and other areas would hurt the town’s businesses economically.

“If you choose to violate the state law, Grass Roots North Carolina has several actions under consideration,” Green said. “The first would be a lawsuit. The second would be an injunction keeping you from enforcing your ordinance.

“The third would be to send out an alert to the 87,000 gun owners that receive it across the state, asking them if they really want to spend their vacation and day-trip dollars in a town that would not let them sit or rest or their children play in a public park. These alerts would then be repeated on blogs and Facebook and would reach well over 100,000 gun owners, not to mention their family and friends.

“This last option would be especially unfortunate (to) the many small businesses that are friendly toward conceal-carry and do not post, businesses that remain neutral and do not post, and businesses who do not like conceal-carry, but like our money, and do not post either.”
 
Resident John Aldridge, president of the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, spoke against the proposed changes to the ordinance.

“As speaking as an individual, not as a leader of the chamber, I think we do have options,” Aldridge said. “Local government buildings that are pertinent to premises are subject to a separate standard according to state law.”

Aldridge noted that Memorial Park is adjacent to Blowing Rock Town Hall, Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation, Blowing Rock Police Department and other town-owned buildings.

“Blowing Rock is unique in that our town complex of buildings is next to a park. I do believe that this town has the option to post (a notice prohibiting guns) at the pool, in the park and in town buildings.”

Moseley pointed out that the new state law specifically uses the word “playgrounds” in its description of where conceal-carry owners must be allowed to bring their guns.

Because of the 3-2 vote, the matter will be revisited at next month’s town council meeting.
In other town council news, the commissioners voted unanimously to:

- Approve consideration of a proposed change to the personnel structure of Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue. At the request of BRF&R Chief Kent Graham, the position of training captain, currently unoccupied, is removed and is replaced by three firefighter/EMT basic ful-ltime positions. The switch would require an additional $13,345 from the town and will be supplied from better-than-expected property tax income this year.

- Approve consideration of bids for two police vehicles with associated equipment, a public works leaf loader for street use and a garbage truck, as well as financing approval; for the fiscal year 2013-14 capital equipment purchases.

- Approve consideration of a budget amendment to properly account for a general fund loan for two police vehicles from last year to be allocated for this year. It also moves funds to better the matching grant for the American Legion Hall renovations and for the Streetscape sidewalk improvement project.

- Approve a resolution designating the primary and secondary agents to apply for, receive and execute FEMA and NC assistance related to the flood damage of this past summer.

 The town council also heard from Doug Chapman about four possible options to combat flooding damage to private properties on Ransom Street.

On the Martin property, a building was removed before the heavy rains of the summer.

As a result, water and mud washed across Ransom Street and damaged other properties’ driveways and lawns.

Options included a temporary berm, driveway culverts, drainage pipes that would stretch across 500-feet of private property to the creek between Ransom Street and Valley Boulevard and new curbs and gutters all along the length of Ransom Street.

The options ranged in price from $700 to $250,000.

Steele made a motion for the town to secure a price from Blowing Rock Town Works and to see if it could implement new curbs and gutters for Ransom Street in phases, as that would be the most permanent solution. The council approved the motion unanimously.

The council also heard an update from Jennifer Brown, director of Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation, on two grant applications the organization is pursuing.

The first grant would be a $50,000 Living Communities in Appalachia grant that would be designated for improvements to the old fire station on Park Avenue. The second grant would be a $5,000 NCDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning matching grant that would be used for a Main Street to Bass Lake connector for pedestrians and cyclists.

Both applications were unanimously approved by the council, although some members had reservations that $50,000 would be far less than is needed to make the old fire station code compliant for other uses.
 
The next regularly scheduled public meeting of the Blowing Rock Town Council will be held at town hall at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12.


 
For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.


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