Officials find some gun rights ‘troubling’

Published 8:32 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A bill born in the North Carolina House of Representatives, expanded in the Senate and is now on the verge of becoming law may allow firearms back where many school officials want them the least: on public school property.
The bill does not apply to all gun-owners, only those with concealed-carry permits issued by the state. House Bill 937 would expand the number of places where those with concealed-carry permits can carry their weapons: locked in vehicles in state government parking lots, on state park trails and other recreational areas including playgrounds, at funerals and parades and into any paid event or restaurant where alcohol is served, unless the owner of the establishment or venue clearly posts a sign banning weapons.
Even though the measure requires concealed-carry permit holders to lock their weapons in their vehicles in the school parking lot, many law enforcement officials are speaking out against potential changes.
The police chiefs of all UNC-system campuses, including East Carolina University’s Acting Police Chief Jason Sugg, released a joint statement opposing the bill last week and ECU chancellor Steve Ballard had this to say: “Supporters of this bill say it will make our campuses safer. I don’t believe that to be true. In fact, it has the potential to create dangerous situations for our faculty, staff, students and visitors … It is our obligation to provide a safe environment at ECU. And I believe the best approach is by relying on the expertise of our accredited police department. I share the concerns expressed by President Tom Ross, my fellow chancellors, and our campus police officers that this proposed change would create increased risk on our campuses.”
Closer to home, Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps said the proposed bill is “troubling.”
“My concern is that if you have weapons present, there’s access to those weapons,” Phipps said. “Vehicles can get broken into, keys can get stolen … I’d be afraid of someone bragging that they have a concealed weapon.”
Washington Police Chief Stacy Drakeford said he wouldn’t speculate as to whether he expects break-ins and theft of firearms to increase if the bill passes: “My job is to enforce the state law as determined by the General Assembly.”
Phipps made it clear that he does not oppose the changes to the law in general, just in relation to public school property and the safety of the Beaufort County students.
“Outside of school — that’s different,” he said. “I’m afraid we’d be creating opportunity and what we’re trying to do is limit opportunity. I think they (the legislature) would be setting the stage for that, but we certainly have no way of knowing.”
The age requirement to apply for a concealed-carry permit is 21.