FOREST PARK—A proposed ordinance that would allow some Forest Park city employees to carry firearms on city property but not in city vehicles went back to the drawing board after an extended debate at the Jan. 22 City Council meeting. The proposed ordinance follows a July 2, 2019 incident in which a Public Works employee bought a pistol on his lunch break and showed it to coworkers. The city has no policy on firearms in the workplace.

Councilwoman Latresa Akins-Wells opposed the measure. "To me, it's stating that 'what you did was okay. And now we’re going to allow everyone to do what you did.’ So I’m 100 percent against this. I’m not for it. Especially with the workplace shootings that’s going on today. That’s the last thing we need.”

Williams said the city has limited options for regulating firearms. "I know there are differences on all sides of this but, for better or worse, Georgia through the legislature is a very gun-friendly state. And they have preempted a number of local laws with respect to the regulation of guns. But one thing that they have given specific authority to cities and counties to do is to regulate the possession of weapons by employees, with the exception of the police department."

Having a policy in place, Williams said, would give the city legal grounds to discipline armed employees without a WCL or who carried guns in city vehicles. Williams said Georgia law allows a Weapons Carry License holder to enter any government building armed during business hours unless security is provided—for example, at council meetings or municipal court. He added the city also could choose to ban all weapons on its property. 

Councilman Allan Mears pointed out the fire department's in-house policy requiring firefighters to lock their unloaded pistols in a safe in the station house and suggested the city consider adopting that policy.

"So who authorized this?" asked Mayor Angelyne Butler.

Fire Chief Eddie Buckholts replied, "It’s an in-house standard operating procedure because there was no policy at the time. And like Councilman Mears mentioned a minute ago, we had four or five different times, in about a two-year period, we had fire stations—and it was all over the metro area—where people were breaking into firemen’s personal vehicles and stealing their weapons. So this was an in-house policy."

For 30 years, Buckholts said, the fire department had a rule that firefighters had to leave their weapons in their vehicles. The the break-ins started. "We spent about $25,000 on fences and probably another $20,000 on cameras, and we were still getting broken into," he said. With the weapons locker procedure, he said, thefts dropped "tremendously."

Butler asked whether the city manager had approved the locker policy. 

"As I mentioned, there was no city policy, so this was the policy that we had within the department," Buckholts said. "But now, I will also mention that it’s being used as a model throughout the metro area, that it wasn’t just us.”

Councilman Dabouze Antoine asked, "Why don’t people just go to work and not buy guns? Just go to work and go back home. Why folks bringing guns to work?"

"Can I answer that?" Buckholts responded.  "A lot of our people live an hour, two hours away, because of working a third day on a three-day rotation. And they come in, you know, early in the morning. As a matter of fact, on this day, I have a paramedic stabbed in Macon last night. So I hope that’ll answer your question. They’re trying to protect themselves."

Butler asked whether firefighters brought weapons with them on a call. Buckholts said they do not. "I will be the first person to stand up here in front of this body and the public and tell you that I have not, and will not, as long as I’m in this position, advocate firefighters carrying weapons on duty. But I do think that when it comes to when they’re on their off time, traveling back and forth to work, I do think that they have that right. I will never encourage them carrying weapons on duty. So I want that to be perfectly clear. That’s the reason we have the policy we have."

Mears suggested the Fire Department give the city manager a list of firefighters who had WCLs and were authorized to lock up their pistols at work. He also pointed out the Second Amendment gives people the right to carry firearms. "I just think we need to tweak that policy just a little bit further, not just pass a policy saying nobody can.”

Councilman Hector Gutierrez said he thought the gun lockers were a "good idea" and thanked Buckholts for "being proactive" with them. "As a veteran, having dealt with guns, I understand the Second Amendment right, I just don’t personally own one after my experiences," Gutierrez said. "Somebody cannot go and buy a gun on city time. That just is absurd and I can’t believe it. I don’t know if this person still has a job here."

Akins-Wells suggested the fire department use a gate entry code to secure personal vehicles. She also asked whether the city would be liable in case of a negligent discharge: "Have we looked at the liability, just say, okay, well, you're bringing your gun in from the car and the gun goes off and somebody gets hurt?"

Buckholts replied that he had. Butler asked Buckholts for a copy of the fire department weapons policy, which he provided. "And I would encourage you to look at that as a possible solution to the problem."

Antoine moved the item be tabled, seconded by both Akins-Wells and Mears. The motion passed unanimously.

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