Update 25 FEB 08: we won!
New park rules pulled; review begins
Amid controversy, including challenge of gun ban, county looks for legal conflicts. Lancaster New Era
Published: Feb 25, 2008
By AD CRABLE
Ongoing concerns over the rights of gun owners and now other users of county parks have prompted the county commissioners to yank proposed park regulations.
All park restrictions, new and old, will come under a full review to make sure they don't conflict with existing laws.
A couple of proposed regulations — addressing wading and horse manure — and a gun ban that has been on the books since the 1970s have suddenly transformed park usage into a controversy.
"I think this will be off the agenda for a while and we will have to go back through each and every restriction and make sure there is no conflicting language," Commissioner Scott Martin said this morning.
"We want to do it right. We're going to take our time and present it back to the public," Martin said.
Besides gun-rights issues, other possible conflicts have arisen, such as whether seeing-eye dogs are permitted in certain park facilities.
There are six county parks and two rail-trails scattered throughout the county.
Concerns were raised recently that the gun ban that's been in place for decades violates a state law that permits carrying of firearms by licensed permit holders.
The commissioners on Friday said they would make sure there is an exemption for such gun carriers.
However, commissioners were flooded over the weekend with new warnings that allowances also need to be made for people who can legally "open carry" handguns through the park.
In most states, including Pennsylvania, anyone at least 18 years old who has not been a criminal can wear a loaded handgun in public without a permit, provided it's in plain view. You only need a permit if you plan to conceal the weapon.
There are some exceptions — schools, courthouses, private businesses that specifically post against open carry, for example. The Legislature has allowed Philadelphia to require a license for open carry.
A petition on the Web site opencarry.org, created by Lancaster County native Michael Stollenwerk, urged the commissioners to "strip all firearms-related language from the proposed park regulations.
"Any gun carry/possession-related regulation you enact is void on its face and will only lead to litigation or worse, unlawful police conduct against citizens."
Stollenwerk said this morning that the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act "ties the commissioners' hands. They're not the Legislature."
Commissioners acknowledged this morning that some park users will not be thrilled at the knowledge that fellow hikers could be carrying guns.
"We have to obey the law," Commissioners Chairman Dennis Stuckey said this morning. Stuckey is a member of the National Rifle Association.
"Anybody who has a legitimate right to carry — our expectations are they will keep the safety of others in mind and will act responsibly."
Martin, who has a license to carry a concealed weapon, says he suspects people with a license to carry have been doing so in county parks for years.
He noted the commissioners were poised to vote on a handful of new park regulations until concerns were raised about the old gun-ban restrictions.
He said the recent debate over proposed park-use changes, with subsequent alterations made after public input, shows "the glory of democracy."
CONTACT US: acrable@LNPnews.com or 481-6029
In the article below, it appears the County Commissioners think that can ban guns in County Parks as long as they include a License to Carry Firearms exemption. Let's set 'em straight!
Action Item: Email the Lancaster County Commissioners!
Suggested email (the email below is the email used to email all 3 commissioners):
SUBJECT: Strip park reg proposal of ALL firearms restrictions!
Dear County Commissioners:
I have read that you are considering a County Park gun ban with an exception for License to Carry Firearms ("LTCF") holders. If you do this, you are violating the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act because Section 6120 COMMANDS that "No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this commonwealth." Section 6120 was recently upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Otiz v. Commonwealth (1996) on both statutory interpretation and because the "ownership of firearms is constitutionally protected" under the Pennsylvania constitution.
The reason that a LTCF holder exemption does not cure a Section 6120 violation is that no LTCF is required in Pennsylvania to open carry firearms, including handguns in holsters, on foot. The open carry of firearms without any license is arguably secured by Article I, Section 32 of the PA Constitution - but regardless, the PA Supreme Court has recently spoken in Hawkins v. Commonwealth (1996) on this issue that as a matter of statutory construction, "Except in Philadelphia, firearms may be carried openly without a license." See Hawkins at n.4.
I urge you to strip out all firearms related language from the proposed park regulations - any gun carry/possession related regulation you enact is void on its face and will only lead to litigation or worse, unlawful police conduct against citizens.
Please let me know what you are going to do.
YOUR ADDRESS (if you live in PA)
County parks gun ban shot down
Lancaster New Era
Published: Feb 22, 2008
By AD CRABLE, Staff
On further review, another proposed county parks restriction will bite the dust, this time on legal grounds, not necessarily due to public sentiment.
People who have a license to carry a concealed handgun — about one in every 25 residents in Lancaster County — will still be allowed to pack heat on a stroll through Central Park or any of the other five county parks or two rail-trails.
County park officials had proposed a slate of new regulations that would have banned any weapon, including handguns, from being brought into the parks.
But as guns-rights activists here and out of state have pointed out, the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 prohibits any county or municipality from preempting the license-to-carry law.
There are some places that don't allow a handgun with a license — federal courthouses, parts of airports and private property that have been specifically posted, for example — but county parks are not among them.
County Commissioners Chairman Dennis Stuckey — a National Rifle Association member — said this morning that the gun-ban wording will be changed so that it does not interfere with the rights of gun holders.
"We're not going to trample anybody's rights in the area of the Second Amendment, let me assure folks of that," Stuckey said.
"I make the assumption that if someone has a permit to carry, they will meet the expectations of safety for others. Our expectation would be that they handle the guns responsibly and with the safety of others in mind."
Commissioner Scott Martin, who himself has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, voiced a similar sentiment.
"In society, people have that right and we respect that right," he said, referring to the license to carry a concealed firearm.
He said the intent of the gun ban was to have something on the books to prevent a possible lawsuit if guns weren't expressly forbidden.
A slate of new park restrictions and rules are up for a vote at the commissioners' meeting at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday in the county courthouse.
The commissioners actually passed the flat gun ban on Feb. 13, after first cancelling a meeting, then holding it two hours later.
After a challenge about the legality of the meeting, the commissioners considered that meeting null and void.
When the commissioners revisited the topic Wednesday, the concealed-weapons issue was broached by citizen activist Ron Harper Jr. and the commissioners delayed action on the proposed park regulations.
Recently, after a public outcry, the commissioners said they would change restrictions on wading in streams in county parks.
Jesse Rothacker, 26, who lives near Mount Joy, has a permit to carry and does so in frequent visits to Central Park.
"Police can't be everywhere, all the time, especially in expansive parks with lonely, deserted trails," he says in a letter to the editor in today's New Era.
"Disarming lawful citizens only serves to embolden criminals who hold no regard for park policy or the law. These types of anti-gun measures may help some people feel safer. Unfortunately, feeling safer and actually being safer are not the same things.
"As we have grimly learned at Virginia Tech and the University of Northern Illinois, "gun-free zones" only create the illusion of safety, where victims are defenseless."
Michael Stollenwerk, a former county resident and guns-rights activist, said of the proposed ban, "A crime can happen anywhere, and people have the right to defend themselves and others."
If commissioners pass the gun ban as written, they'll be committing a criminal act, asserts Kim Stolfer of the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League, a coalition of groups that fights for gun owners' rights.
"Our organization would take them to court."
Thanks for the heads up. I no longer read the local papers. Letters sent.
It was "shot down".
No need to mobilize the troops.
You'll note in the article they only comment about LTCF holders. Open carry doesn't require an LTCF.
Statkowski wrote:I noticed that too. This may not be as completely "resolved" as it appears. I tried to register and comment, but that forum is "currently not accepting members". Changing the wording to exclude LTCF holders is NOT enough to satisfy preemption. Only wording such as "Carry of firearms, other than within the legal limits of the Commonwealth of PA is prohibited." would be legal and enforceable.You'll note in the article they only comment about LTCF holders. Open carry doesn't require an LTCF.
BTW...York county PA already has such an illegal regulation in place, and has sent a response to a PAFOA member that inquired that this DOES include LTCF holders as well, even though the Parks Dept. website clearly identifies themselves as a political sub-division of the county (which makes preemption applicable).
More info here on PAFOA
Thanks Mike and others for your coutinued hard work.