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County eases restrictions on weapons in parks

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

In a recent move, the Henry County Commission has removed some former restrictions against carrying weapons in county parks.

The commission approved an amendment to a portion of the county code pertaining to prohibited acts in parks. The change means that individuals can now bring firearms into county parks -- if they have the proper permit, and provided that they do not discharge them, according to County Commissioner Warren Holder.

"I wasn't aware we were out of compliance [with state law]," said Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis. "The state law was amended just a few years ago, after all the controversy surrounding guns at the airport. This [county's] ordinance predated that."

Previously, the county code completely prohibited the possession of firearms in public parks and recreational areas, according to information that County Manager James "Butch" Sanders presented to the commissioners.

Sanders recommended that the commission remove the prohibition against "possession," and, thereby, limit firearms regulation to "discharging events only." Sanders told the commissioners the change would bring the county into line with Georgia law.

State law preempts the county on this issue, he said. The state prohibits counties and municipalities from regulating the possession or transport of firearms, Sanders said. However, the state does allow local governments to ban the discharge of firearms, he continued.

Mathis said the county's decision is not expected to result in any safety issues. "I don't believe this amendment poses a threat, or makes the parks any less safe," she said. "Most licensed gun owners are not intent on breaking the law. Criminals, on the other hand, will carry guns, with or without, an ordinance."

Sanders said he was alerted to the need for the change by an e-mail from an anonymous local resident, who happened to be searching the county code. "They noticed our code was out of line with what the state allowed," he said.

The county was not experiencing any problems with weapons being brought into parks, Sanders said. "It's a housekeeping measure," he added. "It was not from a precipitating event."