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Municipal limits an issue with concealed-gun law

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 5:54 p.m.

CHARLOTTE — When North Carolina lawmakers approved a bill expanding where concealed weapons are allowed, it touched off a dilemma for communities that had banned firearms from playgrounds.

To comply with the legislation, some municipalities had to change their laws. While some community leaders have expressed outrage, gun rights groups say it's time municipalities follow the law — and they're watching to make sure they do. If they don't, legal action could follow.

“The days when local government bureaucrats can ignore state law with respect to firearms are over,” said Paul Valone, founder of Grass Roots North Carolina, a gun rights group. “We want these municipalities to comply with the law. I don't think that's too much to ask.”

The fight has been brewing for years. Opponents say it's dangerous to have guns around children, but supporters say concealed weapons help reduce crime.

The latest battle can be traced back to 2011, when the General Assembly passed a law that prohibited municipalities from banning concealed weapons in local parks.

The legislation included a provision that let cities ban concealed weapons from “recreation facilities” — defined as “a playground, an athletic field, a swimming pool and an athletic facility.”

Some communities, including Asheville in western North Carolina and the Wake County town of Morrisville, approved ordinances intended to do just that.

But Valone said the cities overstepped their bounds by interpreting the legal definitions as broadly as possible.

“Unfortunately, what we found after that was municipalities for ideological reasons ... were actually torturing the English language to include as recreation facilities entire parks with hiking trails, greenways and other areas which were clearly not the intent of the General Assembly.”

So his group and others lobbied for changes, and this year lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate and House approved a bill expanding where concealed handguns are allowed.

The legislation allows concealed-carry permit holders to take firearms into bars, restaurants and other places where alcohol is served as long as the owner doesn't expressly forbid it. The bill allows guns on greenways, playgrounds and other public recreation areas.

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