Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rights Watch Files Park Carry Suit Against Winston-Salem

Rights Watch International, the non-profit arm of Grass Roots North Carolina, has filed suit in Forsyth County Superior Court against the City of Winston-Salem. The case, Childs et al v. City of Winston-Salem et al, is seeking a declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction against Winston-Salem over the city's park carry ordinance on the grounds that it exceeded its authority, is unconstitutionally vague, and violates both the North Carolina and US Constitution.

The plaintiffs in the case are Rights Watch International and four individuals - David Childs, David Phillips, Shannon West, and Christopher Hjelm - who are claiming injury from the Winston-Salem park carry ordinance. The defendants in the case are the City of Winston-Salem, its Department of Recreation and Parks, Mayor Allen Joines, and Recreation and Parks Director Timothy Grant. The two individuals are being sued in their official capacities.

North Carolina, like most states, has a pre-emption statute that retains regulation of firearms as a state prerogative and limits what counties and municipalities may do. HB 650 which was passed in the last session of the North Carolina General Assembly said concealed carry in state, county, and municipal parks was legal. The only limitations that counties and cities may impose are prohibitions against carry in "recreational facilities" which were defined to be only "a playground, an athletic field, a swimming pool, and an athletic facility."

The problem is that the city decided to play fast and loose with how they defined recreational areas and athletic facilities. From the adopted Ordinance No. 4735 which amended Section 38-10 of the Code of Ordinances:
(1) Recreational facilities include only the following: a playground, an athletic field, a swimming pool, and an athletic facility owned or operated by the city.
(2) Athletic field means a piece of land traditionally used for organized athletic or sporting event(s), including the adjoining spectator area.
(3) Athletic facility means a building, structure or place including a walking trail, greenway and body of water such as a lake for engaging in sporting events, recreational activities, fitness or physical training.
(4) Playground means a piece of land used for and usually equipped with facilities for recreation especially by children including the adjoining area and shelter used by children for respite, eating and playing sedentary games
Not only has the city stretched the definition of athletic facility and recreational facility, they have failed to fulfill their responsibilities by consistently posting the recreational facilities in which concealed carry is prohibited. Since it is a class 3 misdemeanor which carries a fine of up to $500 to carry in prohibited locations, this is problematic for the plaintiffs and their desire to both obey the ordinance and to provide for their own self-protection.
All Plaintiffs have sought to determine where the ordinance does not allow concealed carry in the parks which they use, but have been unable to obtain a listing of the designated areas from the Defendants nor have they been able to identify the prohibited areas from posting in the parks due to the vagueness of the definitions in the Ordinance and the inconsistency or failure of Defendants to post restricted areas.
The lawsuit alleges that Winston-Salem, by their defining recreational facilities so expansively, has engaged in an "action in excess of statutory authority". The suit further alleges that the city ordinances are "unconstitutionally vague in that they do not provide adequate notice to Plaintiffs as to what conduct is and is not legal and do not offer sufficient notice to prevent discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement.." Finally, the suit alleges that Winston-Salem's ordinances violate the plaintiffs' right to keep and bear arms because they operate in such a way as to be a total ban on the right to keep and bear arms.

The suit asks for a declaratory judgment saying the ordinances in question are null and void due to the above allegations. It further asks for attorneys' fees and a permanent injunction prohibiting Winston-Salem from enforcing the ordinances.

Winston-Salem was chosen for this suit because their ordinance was the most egregious of all North Carolina municipalities which chose to post athletic and recreational facilities. They knowingly pushed the envelope and now they find themselves in court as well they should.

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