Bill lifts gun ban at NC State Fair, allows DAs to carry in courtrooms

Bill lifts gun ban at NC State Fair, allows DAs to carry in courtrooms (Image 1)

Competing legislation in the General Assembly is aimed at guns at the North Carolina State Fair, one of which would ease restrictions on gun owners who hold concealed carry permits.

Last year, a Wake County judge declined to allow concealed carry permit holder to bring their guns to the State Fair after gun advocacy group Grass Roots North Carolina filed a restraining order saying state law allows permit holders to bring their handguns into paid venues.

The ruling irked many advocates who argued that concealed carry permit holders have a high level of proficiency and improve public safety for all fair goers.

House Bill 562, filed on Thursday, modifies a law signed last year to allow people with concealed carry permits to take guns into the State Fair, however not on rides.

Rep. Justin Burr, who co-sponsored the legislation along with eight other Republicans, said the bill protects the right of “law-abiding citizens.”

“We are continuing our effort to make sure that law-abiding citizens in North Carolina that own a gun have the right to defend themselves and their families,” Burr said. “I’m not sure why you should be forced to leave your gun in your car, and then walk down a dark road to go back to your car with the potential of being robbed by someone. You should have the ability to protect yourself.”

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg County, pointed to House Bill 563, which she said should be considered along with HB562 and “strengthens firearms background checks.”

“The two bills are related, as I’ll point out, but because of how sizeable they are, we opted to file them as separate bills,” Schaffer said. “But, taken together, the two bills generally build on what we did in 2013 with HB937, “Amend Various Firearms Laws,” which was to further protect the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens, while strengthening our background checks for those seeking to obtain firearms and ensuring that those who shouldn’t possess a firearm for a variety of reasons are prevented from doing so.”

Opponents of the bill, however, contend that the fairgrounds is not the place for guns.

“I had a lot of concerns. The fairgrounds are in the absolute heart of my district, so it’s something that I care about,” Wake County Democrat Rep. Duane Hall said. “The Second Amendment doesn’t give you the right to carry it everywhere automatically.”

The measure further bans employers from stopping their employees who have legal permits from storing a gun in their vehicle, and allows DA’s with concealed carry permits to bring guns inside a courtroom.

“There is a sheriff, a bailiff in every courtroom. They have a gun,” Hall said. “There’s no need to have young district attorneys with the responsibility of also carrying a gun with them.”

Among those who support the ban on guns at the State Fair is the commissioner in charge of the fair every year.

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in September 2014 that a “mix of kids, guns, rides and large crowds is a bad idea.”

“We are concerned about accidental discharge” of a gun at the fair, he said.

A spokesman for the State Fair, Brian Long, said the fair does not support the House bill, and instead pointed to a Senate bill that clears up language banning firearms.

“Because of the large number of rides at the fair, we don’t think this proposal would be practical from an enforcement standpoint,” Long said. “We would prefer they consider something along the lines of Senate Bill 579.”

SB579, filed by Republican Sen. Brent Jackson, of Sampson County, makes it “unlawful for any person to carry any gun, rifle or pistol into an agricultural fair … on state property that is managed, operated and conducted by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture.” The bill also gives the agriculture commissioner the power to adopt rules allowing permit holders to bring their guns onto state property managed by the department.

Burr, though, contests that guns would make the State Fair a safer place. Last year, two people were robbed at gunpoint while leaving the fair.

“Places where guns are banned are some of the most violent places in America,” Burr said. “And the places where guns are permitted are some of the safest.”

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