Lawsuit intends to fend off gun curbs

Gun advocates respond to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling Monday on Second Amendment rights.

staff writerJune 30, 2010 

The same day the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that gun rights advocates saw as an open door to challenge the constitutionality of firearms restrictions, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in North Carolina seeking an injunction against the governor and others from declaring states of emergency that restrict who can carry guns in public.

The suit was filed Monday by Second Amendment Foundation, Grass Roots North Carolina and three individuals against Gov. Bev Perdue, Reuben F. Young, secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, Stokes County and the City of King.

It is one of many expected across the country in the aftermath of the high court's 5-4 ruling that the Second Amendment guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws. But in their ruling on the case challenging a Chicago handgun ban, the justices left it up to the lower courts to decide what kinds of gun control laws can be reconciled with Second Amendment protections.

The North Carolina case, filed in the state's eastern federal district, questions whether state laws limiting who can carry guns in states of emergency are overreaching.

The suit also contends that government officials, under the state of emergency law, are allowed to prohibit the purchase, sale and possession of firearms and ammunition - actions the plaintiffs describe as violations of their Second Amendment rights.

Paul Valone, president of Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun rights advocacy group, said the suit was filed, in part, to test whether the state can impose such restrictions in times of emergency.

"Not only will it get to that," Valone said Tuesday. "It will set binding precedent."

Under North Carolina law, the governor can declare states of emergency as can municipalities and counties. Since Sept. 1, 2004, according to the lawsuit, at least a dozen states of emergency have been declared by a North Carolina governor. All but one were weather-related - for hurricanes, tropical storms, snow and ice. One was for the 2008 wildfire that swept through Hyde, Tyrell and Washington counties.

In some towns and cities, though, states of emergency are declared when large crowds are expected to gather in small places. In such circumstances, law enforcement officers are able to confiscate weapons.

King, a Stokes County town of about 4,700 people nearly seven miles north of Winston-Salem, was named in the suit because in February, the mayor declared a state of emergency after a fierce winter snow and ice storm felled trees and damaged properties.

The mayor did so, according to city administrators, so that King could be a candidate for federal funds to help with the cleanup after the storm.

In this Web age where news spreads instantaneously, National Rifle Association members and gun rights advocates across the country homed in on the firearms restrictions and flooded King city offices with e-mail messages and phone calls in protest.

"Ironically, the mayor, who is an NRA member and a strong second amendment supporter himself, became a target for anyone who believes that 'government is out to take our guns away,'" John W. Cater, King city manager, said in a prepared statement. "In King, nothing could be farther from the truth. If King has been named in a lawsuit regarding a 2nd amendment violation, that's very unfortunate."

State law enforcement advocacy groups and North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, an advocate for gun controls, declined to comment about the specifics of the case.

"We want to wait for more input from law enforcement," said Roxane Kolar, executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.

anne.blythe@newsobserver.com or 919 836-4948

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