The state’s most recent gun law may allow concealed firearms at this year’s N.C. State Fair, where they have been forbidden for decades.
Grass Roots North Carolina, an advocate group for gun owners, plans to file a legal action establishing the right under state law, according to representatives.
Fair officials, meanwhile, are considering stepped-up security and plan to continue the yearly event’s no-guns policy.
“We’re not changing any policy that we’ve had in the past,” said Steve Troxler, the state’s agriculture commissioner and the head of the fair. “Hopefully ... we’ll get the word out now: Leave them in the car.”
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Fair officials became aware about two weeks ago of the possibility that state law could allow guns at the fair, according to spokesman Brian Long. Troxler spoke Monday with members of Grass Roots and learned that the group thinks the fair’s no-guns policy now is illegal, Long said.
Josette Chmiel, director of development for Grass Roots, said that the legality of weapons at the fair is clear.
“It’s black and it’s white, and it’s in House Bill 937,” she said, referring to a law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory in summer 2013.
The fair’s insistence on keeping guns out is wrongheaded, Chmiel said Tuesday.
“If you want to make sure it’s safe, you need to make sure you’re targeting criminals,” she said, arguing that concealed-carry permit holders are responsible and that an increased number of permitted guns would not bring any increase in violence or injuries to the fair.
“As usual, the wrong people are being targeted here,” she said.
Troxler said some legislators told him in private that the bill was neither expected nor intended to allow guns at the fair. He did not name the legislators.
But Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican and a primary sponsor of the bill, said the new law should allow concealed weapons at the State Fair.
“There was nothing in the bill that I could remember that said that the agricultural fair was exempt, or that the parking area ... was exempted,” he said. “We’ve said that wherever crowds gathered, concealed carry was allowed.”
Neither of the bill’s other primary sponsors could be reached for comment Tuesday night, nor could McCrory.
Troxler said he would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns to the fair if a court orders it. The event may use more metal detectors and may bring on more security staff, Long said.
The fair employs hundreds of law enforcement officers across its 100-odd acres. The Wake County Sheriff’s Office is the chief agency inside the fair.
Sean Sorrentino, who runs “ An NC Gun Blog,” said that the issue has been simmering among the most vocal advocates of expanded gun rights since last year.
“(Grass Roots) caught absolute hell,” for failing to push the issue last fall, said Sorrentino, who also runs the group’s Twitter account as a volunteer.
It’s unclear when Grass Roots’ legal motion will be filed, or when a judge will decide whether to overrule the fair’s gun ban.
Grass Roots will not encourage gun owners to break the law in any situation, Chmiel said. She declined to say what the group would do if it does not win its injunction.
“We know what the law says, and we’re going to fight for the letter of the law,” she said.
No relevant legal action had been recorded on the Wake County court system’s computerized records as of Tuesday afternoon.