An advocacy group and three gun owners filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday in an attempt to force State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler to allow people with concealed carry permits to take handguns into the N.C. State Fair next week.
The gun rights group Grass Roots North Carolina issued a statement Thursday saying that its negotiations with Troxler over carrying guns on the fairgrounds and in fair parking lots had reached an impasse, so it was asking the courts to step in.
A sister nonprofit group, Rights Watch International, actually filed the suit, along with F. Paul Valone II of Mecklenburg County, Josette Chmiel of Durham County and Thomas S. Rhyne III of Wake County, who are identified in court documents as holders of concealed carry permits. Valone is president of Grass Roots North Carolina, and Chmiel is the director of development.
Wake Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens is expected to hold a hearing on the case Monday. The gun advocates are asking him to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the fair from posting its standard gun ban when it opens next Thursday, and order fair officials to permanently lift their ban on guns at the event.
Guns have been banned from the fair for decades, but the gun rights group says that a state law passed last year now prevents that. State law had prevented people from taking a firearm weapon into events that charged admission, but that was changed to allowed properly permitted concealed handguns, with some exemptions.
Troxler, though, said last week that the fair’s no-gun policy wouldn’t change. The new law was vaguely worded, he said, and legislators had told him that it was not intended to open the door to weapons at the fair.
“We are looking forward to defending our position that the law is unclear and explaining why our longstanding weapons policy at the State Fair should remain in place,” Troxler said in a statement Thursday.
“We go to great lengths to provide a safe environment at the State Fair,” Troxler said. “Our efforts include a large law enforcement presence and the use of metal detectors. The fair’s weapons policy, which has been in place for decades, also plays an important role in maintaining that safe environment.”
Troxler said last week that he would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns to the fair only if a court or the state legislature ordered it. A fair spokesman said then that it may use more metal detectors and may bring on more security staff.
The gun rights advocates said allowing the ban to stand would infringe on their rights, and those of 350,000 other N.C. concealed handgun permit holders, to protect themselves and their families. Documents they filed with the lawsuit cite incidents of mob violence at state fairs in Iowa in 2010 and Wisconsin in 2011.
In a deposition filed Thursday, Valone described himself as a state-certified firearms instructor and a competitive shooter with nearly three decades of experience. He detailed various reasons that guns are unlikely to fall from holsters and discharge, even when gun owners are on midway rides, and said that he was aware of at least four states that allowed concealed carry with permits at their fairs: Florida, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.