Gun rights group threatens to sue Raleigh over outdated park signs

ccampbell@newsobserver.comOctober 25, 2013 

Signs banning concealed weapons are still in place at many Raleigh parks, including this one at the entrance to Davie Street Park.

COLIN CAMPBELL — ccampbell@newsobserver.com

— North Carolina’s most vocal gun rights group is threatening to sue Raleigh if it doesn’t update signs in city parks that tell visitors firearms aren’t allowed.

Grass Roots North Carolina sent a letter to the Raleigh City Council this week, requesting an update to the signs now that state law allows concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns to playgrounds, greenways and college campuses.

In an email, Raleigh parks director Diane Sauer told the group it would be too expensive to replace all signs in the city’s 100-plus parks – especially because state lawmakers might change the rules again.

“Due to costs associated with and the potential of this coming up again, we are not going to replace all signs at once,” Sauer wrote to a Grass Roots member. “As signs are replaced (age or damage) or new signs are added, we will include updated information.”

Grass Roots North Carolina president Paul Valone says he doesn’t buy that argument.

“I find that disingenuous,” Valone said. “It’s not too expensive – you don’t have to replace them or anything, just take them down.”

Valone provided photos of several park signs that say “possession of concealed or displayed firearms on this property is prohibited by law.” A review of park signs near downtown found that new signs are posted at Moore Square and Nash Square banning visitors from “openly” carrying guns, but making no mention of concealed weapons. But other parks, such as Davie Street Park, still have the older signs Valone cited.

Sauer did not return multiple calls seeking comment. City Attorney Tom McCormick said he’s not familiar with the sign complaint, but he says the city won’t enforce any gun rules that were struck down by the state legislature.

“The city intends to comply and is complying with the state regulations,” McCormick said.

John Odom, the lone Republican on the Raleigh City Council, said he’s supportive of gun rights but thinks state legislators should let the city set its own park rules. “I don’t know whether or not changing the signs right away is of the utmost importance to me,” he said.

The General Assembly passed a law in 2011 allowing people with permits to carry concealed firearms in public parks statewide, though it allowed cities to keep bans at “recreational facilities” such as playgrounds and athletic fields. This year, the legislature changed the law again, requiring cities to allow guns on playgrounds starting Oct. 1.

Raleigh hasn’t yet tweaked its regulations to reflect the new state law, but McCormick said that will happen in the coming months. The Morrisville Town Council changed its rules reluctantly Tuesday after a heated public hearing.

Valone said Raleigh – along with Wilmington, Asheville and other North Carolina towns – have so far “just ignored the state law.” But he notes that Charlotte, Hickory and Forsyth County updated their ordinances after the law took effect.

Grass Roots has been lobbying cities about park regulations since the 2011 law passed, encouraging them to allow concealed weapons throughout park facilities. The group has threatened lawsuits against other Triangle towns such as Smithfield over concerns that local rules were too restrictive, although the threats never resulted in a legal filing.

The group typically relies on its thousands of members to deluge elected officials and others with emails demanding change. Currently, Grass Roots is keeping a list of restaurants that ban guns and encouraging complaint calls and emails to the businesses.

The letter to Raleigh from Grass Roots, dated Sunday, demands a response within five business days or the group will begin pursuing legal action. Valone said he has yet to receive any reply.

“My message to Raleigh is, you will lose, and it will cost you money,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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