Under fire Some residents question a rule banning guns in an area park
BY MIA LIGHT
Published: Saturday, July 19, 2008 4:24 AM EDT
While the Hazle Township board of supervisors awaits legal advice on the constitutionality of one of its Community Park rules — the one that prohibits possession of firearms in the park — many citizens who visit the outdoor recreation facility are not comfortable with the idea of people openly carrying guns in the park.
Questions regarding the legality of carrying firearms in the park surfaced this week when Paul Schroeder of Hazleton, a member of the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Association, said the rule that prohibits possession of firearms in the park is a violation of the state Uniform Firearms Act, which states a “General Rule” that no county, municipality or township may in any matter regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by state law.
Accompanying Schroeder at the township board meeting was Richard Banks of Mountain Top, a fellow member of the PFOA who recently filed suit in federal court against Dickson City and three of its police officers following an incident at a restaurant in the borough.
According to reports in The Times-Tribune of Scranton, the suit stems from a May 9 incident in which police asked for identification from a group of customers openly carrying firearms at Old Country Buffet. Banks had refused to provide responding police officers with his driver’s license identification and was detained. Police also confiscated a gun carried by restaurant patron Roger McCarren of White Mills, Wayne County, because the state police gun sales database indicated it was purchased by his wife, Darcie.
Banks and his wife, Judy, McCarren and Larry Meyer of Susquehanna filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, asking for compensatory damages in excess of $100,000 and an “injunction requiring the individual defendants to receive such additional training as may be necessary to prevent a recurrence.” The compensatory figure doesn’t include punitive damages, which can be awarded as a punishment and a deterrent to the alleged rights violation being repeated.
Hazleton attorney David Pedri of the Pedri Law Office, which provides solicitorship to the township board, is researching the park rule issue and is expected to return a recommendation to the supervisors.
“We are in the process of reviewing it. We are not prepared to release a conclusion at this time, but we are in the process of reviewing it,” Pedri said.
Banks said the gun owners’ organization will follow board action on the issue.
Meanwhile, many of the citizens who frequent Hazle Township Community Park are uneasy at the thought of people being allowed to openly carry guns there.
Randy Garis, 47, of Hazleton, had his 4-year old twins, Hayley and Zachary, at the park this week.
Asked about his feelings on the PFOA’s objection to the park rule that prohibits firearms, Garis said that even constitutionally guaranteed rights have reasonable limits.
“The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a theater. It guarantees freedom of the press, but you can’t write something false about someone. That’s libel. They have the right to bear arms and they can have their picnic here. But there are rules to abide by that are not unreasonable rules. We abide by the rules when we come here. Everyone should,” Garis said.
Christine Slusser, 24, of Summit Hill, is a gun owner who has a permit to carry a firearm.
While her 3-year-old twins, Haliey and Noah, played on the swings at the park, Slusser said there are proper times and proper places to bear arms, and a community park where children play is not one of them.
She said that the township rule that prohibits firearms in the park is “a very good rule.”
“I am permitted to carry and I do own guns. But I do not carry (a gun) around my kids or anyone else’s kids. There is a time and a place for it. On a rifle range — that’s OK — but not at a community park,” Slusser said.
Other residents have no problem with openly carried weapons in the park.
West Hazleton resident Kerri Guydish relaxed on a park bench in the shade while her daughter Kayla, 12, and Kayla’s friend Ally Deritis, 12, of Hazle Township, played Frisbee in an open field.
Guydish said she would have “no problem at all” bringing her daughter to the park if a gun-owners’ association was picnicking nearby and its members had guns on their hips.
“As long as they’re here to have a picnic as an organization, a group, and they’re licensed to carry a gun and their guns are in a holster, they’re not waving them around, then no, I would have no problem with that at all,” Guydish said.
Opinion on the park rule differed between an elderly gentleman and his wife, who were passing time in the park by leisurely swinging on a double-wide bench swing.
The man, who preferred not to give his name, said the park rule is simply that — a rule, not a law. He said the board of supervisors should pass a law in order to enforce a firearm prohibition.
“If they have a permit to carry a gun for protection or for any other reason at all, then they can carry their firearm any place that there is no law prohibiting them from carrying it,” the man said.
His wife said she would not be comfortable at the park if people were allowed to openly carry weapons.
“I’d be afraid if I came here and there were people with guns,” she said.
The rules and regulations are posted at the park with a warning that violations can carry a fine of up to $300.