County rules on guns could be unconstitutional
By Charles Schillinger (Staff Writer)
Published: June 10, 2010
New rules on guns in Lackawanna County parks adopted by county commissioners last month are being challenged by local law enforcement as too lenient, and by gun-law experts as possibly unconstitutional.
Commissioners approved rules and regulations prohibiting smoking, skateboarding and other activities in county parks, including new restrictions on guns. The rule says, "No unlicensed firearms or weapons are allowed in a park
." Discharging a firearm is also prohibited.
Olyphant resident Keith MacDonald challenged the language at a commissioners meeting Wednesday, saying there is no license for guns in Pennsylvania and arguing the county cannot prohibit people from openly carrying a firearm.
Meanwhile, Sheriff John Szymanski said he also plans to challenge the new rule - arguing the county should make it more strict.
"We don't allow firearms in the park," said Mr. Szymanski, whose department oversees law enforcement of county parks. "It's a public facility, and if you walk around with a gun, you're going to intimidate a lot of people. Our position is we're not allowing it and we're going to ask for clarification on that point."
The wording of park rules, unchanged or made more strict, could set off a constitutional debate on gun rights in Lackawanna County, experts say. County solicitor John O'Brien said they are reviewing the language and looking to see how it can be updated.
"Our intention is not to make illegal anything that you can already do under state law,
" Mr. O'Brien said, indicating he thinks openly carrying a firearm in a park might be allowed under state law.
Mr. O'Brien couldn't say what the county meant by an "unlicensed firearm
"What is an unlicensed firearm
?" asked attorney Edward Bilik, who takes on gun law cases in the western part of the state. "I believe that they're pre-empting state statute with that, and it's going to be unconstitutional
Tunkhannock attorney Jerry Grimaud, who takes on constitutional law cases, said the wording of the county park rules "would likely not pass constitutional muster
." He added the county would have issues if it outright banned guns, as Mr. Szymanski plans to request.
"That's clearly unconstitutional
," said Mr. Grimaud. "It's probably not been the subject of litigation, but if it does, I'm convinced it's not constitutional
Pennsylvania has no license to carry a gun - there is a license to carry a concealed weapon - or state registration of gun owners, said Jack Lewis, a state police spokesman. State police only require sellers check the background of a person prior to the sale of a handgun.
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