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

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, 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."

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