As a local citizen, user and supporter of our parks, I feel strongly that allowing gun permit holders to carry weapons into our parks sets a very bad precedent. Let's take the highly charged emotions out of this issue and look at the facts:
1) The only reason a person carries a gun is to be able to use it when that individual feels the need. I don't want my family, children or grandchildren in a place where guns are legally allowed to be used by anyone other than law enforcement and security personnel if a situation warrants it.
Law enforcement personnel have been rigorously trained to respond to situations appropriately, as opposed to gun permit holders who are not. Gun permit holders do have training, but certainly not at the level of law enforcement and hence are more subject to making dreadful 'mistakes'.
2) In our parks are the Little League and game fields, often packed with children and families. Would these areas be exempt from the gun carry laws? I don't believe that Little League and game fields are included as allowable places for gun permit holders to carry guns. But bullets don't stop at the boundary line of a Little League field.
3) In addition, we have lovely indoor facilities with swimming, games, craft classes located in the park. Would gun permit carriers be legally allowed to enter these facilities with guns? If they are going swimming, would the guns be put in a locker? What would people using the locker room do if someone whom they don't know (and are not allowed to know whether they have permits -- it has been labeled 'secret' information -- an invasion of privacy) who is changing, takes off a gun holster and puts it in a locker.
To be frank -- I would call the police and/or security because I wouldn't know whether it was legal or not. And nobody else would either until law enforcement arrived. Does law enforcement have access to gun permit lists to verify if it is valid or forged? What if the gun permit holder is from another state--like New Jersey? These sorts of calls could waste a considerable amount of time on the part of law enforcement and hence cost the city a lot of money.
4) Our parks are currently used by our school children; how can the two laws be reconciled? If gun permit carriers were allowed in parks, that would exclude the parks' use by school children as part of a school field trip or outing because of the absolutely essential 'no guns in school" rule. So our educational system would be hamstrung, and of course, the children, who love the parks would be deprived as a result; it would be one less healthy, educational activity for them in which to participate.
The result would be to have to increase costs to expand outdoor facilities at the schools to make up for it.
5) Shelbyville proudly hosts the Walking Horse Celebration every year, bringing in fame and millions in revenue. Visitors come from all over the world, and should a 'incident' occur as a result of guns in our parks during this time, a very unpleasant spotlight would focus on our community. And it could cost us dearly.
6) I believe there is a conflict of interest for council members voting on this issue who a) are gun carry permit holders themselves or have a close family member who is and b) are members of or are affiliated in any way with the National Rifle Association, a political action organization; quoting from it's official web site: "NRA affiliates play a major role in the delivery system of NRA Programs. By becoming affiliated with NRA, you will send a strong message to those who threaten our gun rights and you will help to continue the shooting sports tradition."
But the issue on the table here is NOT 'shooting sports' in our local parks. I believe that any vote by affiliated council members against opting out of 'guns-in-parks' is subject to challenge on the basis of conflict of interest. Hence I suggest those individuals should abstain from voting on this issue.
7) Some communities have ducked the issue by letting it die on the floor for lack of a motion or second, but is this not an abdication of responsibility and essentially handing an unfunded mandate to our taxpayers that will have to shoulder the costs?
8) The most balanced approach to this would be, in my estimation, that the issue be voted on by our community. It is the local taxpayers that will be asked to pay for the increased costs to the community involved with this issue and they should have a say.
And since the opt-out must be done before September, I would recommend that the council vote to opt-out until a general vote can be taken, and if it is voted by our citizens that we allow gun carry permit holders to carry guns in our local parks and they are willing to shoulder the increased financial burdens for schools, law enforcement and court costs, then the vote can be rescinded, and the gun carry permit holders will be allowed in parks.
Just for the record, I personally own two guns, but I don't feel it imperative to carry them around town.
W.C. Abbey-Carlton has been a resident of Shelbyville since 1993. She presented this statement to the City Council this week.