Commissioners vote against weapons in county buildings, again

Published 5:46 pm Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The county Board of Commissioners voted not to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry firearms into county buildings.

It was the second vote that’s been taken on the issue.

In December, Commissioner Hood Richardson initiated the public discussion with a resolution that would remove county policy and fall in line with state law with regard to where concealed-carry permit holders could carry their weapons. Removing the county policy would allow concealed-carried weapons into all county buildings excepting the Beaufort County Courthouse and schools. It was voted down 5-2 the first time, with commissioners Richardson and Frankie Waters voting for the change.

In Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting, Commissioner Gary Brinn revived the resolution, saying it was discussion with constituents after December’s meeting that prompted him to change his stance.

The meeting started with the concealed-carry issue, as the two people signed up for the public comment period — William Cratch III and Carter Leary — spoke about gun rights. Cratch focused on the need to arm oneself against potential crime; Leary, about protecting oneself against the tyranny of government.

Discussion initially centered around county department supervisors approving which county employees could carry a concealed weapon at work, but when it came time to vote, Commissioner Ron Buzzeo, a former DEA investigator, said he could not vote for the resolution unless certain requirements were met.

“I’ve thought long and hard on this issue even prior to last month and prior to this evening and based on my law enforcement experience in carrying a firearm, I don’t think I can vote for it (as is),” Buzzeo said. “I fully support the right of every resident in the county to carry a firearm, a concealed firearm. … I’d like to support this motion, but unless some things are accounted for or clarified …”

Buzzeo said he could support the resolution if the emphasis was on providing a safe work environment, first by reviewing current county buildings’ security, making safety upgrades to protect employees from outside attacks and holding courses for all county employees to detect and prevent workplace violence.

Buzzeo said he would vote for the resolution if the county manager, sheriff and department management also first studied the feasibility and impact on departments and operations. He asked that restrictions be put in place to prevent weapons from being carried into county libraries, county buildings that collect funds and the Department of Social Services; that non-county property owners retain the right to prohibit the carrying of a weapon onto their properties; that only county employees — not the general public — be allowed to carry firearms onto county property; have the ability to withdraw approval to carry a concealed weapon given to a county employee; and that notification and copies of concealed carry permits must be made available to supervisors, department heads and the county manager for approval.

In addition to concealed-carry training and certification, Buzzeo suggested that county employees requesting to bring a concealed weapon onto county property must have additional concealed handgun training that includes combat training and a course on “when to shoot, don’t shoot.”

“One of the ways to kill an item like this is to bureaucratize this to death,” Richardson said in response to Buzzeo’s safety concerns. “I’m not going to vote for all these amendments because it would take 14 Philadelphia lawyers to sort it out.”

The vote to allow the public and county employees to carry concealed weapons onto county property failed, 3-4, with commissioners, Belcher, Booth, Buzzeo and Langley voting against.

The same split occurred moments later when Langley made the motion to not address the issue again for six months.