Monday, March 4, 2024

Wilmington changes park signs prohibiting firearms after resident points out ban is illegal

According to the city attorney's office, many park signs were changed to reflect a 2013 law that blocks local government from prohibiting concealed-carry in parks under most circumstances. But, apparently, some signs -- and the city's website -- were never changed.

A sign at Empie Park appears to have been recently modified to remove language prohibiting firearms. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)
A sign at Empie Park appears to have been recently modified to remove language prohibiting firearms. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — Over the weekend, signs at city parks were redacted to remove language forbidding all firearms — the result, apparently, of a concerned resident pointing out that such prohibition, which includes a ban on concealed-carry handguns, is illegal under state law.

Until the weekend, signs listing the rules and regulations at city parks included “possession of firearms prohibited,” and indicated that violations would result in a $100 penalty.

As of Wednesday, Jan. 16, Wilmington's Park and Recreation website still listed the prohibition on firearms. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)
As of Wednesday, Jan. 16, Wilmington’s Park and Recreation website still listed the prohibition on firearms. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

That prohibition has since been covered up on signs, though, as of Wednesday, it still appeared on Wilmington’s Parks and Recreation website page.

Catching up with a 2013 law

Last week, a concerned resident emailed the city to point out that the signs appeared to violate state statute NCGS 14-415.23, which prohibits local government from restricting concealed firearms more tightly than the state itself does — the law does not prevent local governments from prohibiting open-carry firearms.

The state’s non-preemption statute, passed in 2013, expressly forbids Wilmington from banning licensed concealed-carry of firearms except in several specific instances:

  • In city and county buildings and their adjacent parking lots (i.e. City Hall, New Hanover County Government Complex)
  • At recreational facilities, meaning
    • Athletic fields, only for the duration of scheduled events
    • Swimming pools and their “appurtenant premises” (i.e. parking lots)
    • Athletic facilities, for example, a gymnasium

According to Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart, “In 2013, there was a change in NC law regarding where local governments could and could not ban weapons on their property and in their parks and recreational facilities. At that time, in 2013, the City amended its ordinance relating to possession of weapons or concealed handguns on City property in order to comply with the amended state law, and the City has been enforcing that ordinance, in compliance with state law, since that time.”

Everhart added that new signs were ordered and “most of them were changed” back in 2013.

“It is my understanding that it was recently brought to the attention of City staff that signs at some park locations had been missed in that 2013 process and were never changed, so those old signs have now been replaced,” Everhart said.

Everhart said this does not mean the city has “dropped prohibitions” of firearms in city parks, adding “the City will continue to enforce any and all handgun prohibitions that are consistent with both City ordinance and state law.”

New Hanover County parks

County park signs also feature language about the prohibition of firearms, although they are worded in a way that keeps them in compliance with the 2013 state law allowing them in parks under most circumstances. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)
County park signs also feature language about the prohibition of firearms, although they are worded in a way that keeps them in compliance with the 2013 state law allowing them in parks under most circumstances. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

County parks, also mentioned in the resident’s email, have a slightly different phrasing on their signs, which makes them legally compliant.

These signs read, “firearms are not permitted except as allowed by NCGS 14.415.23.”

Some residents would be forgiven for mistaking this sign for meaning that firearms are forbidden from county parks, although legally the meaning of the sign is to say that, except for the limited exceptions listed in state law, licensed concealed-carry firearms are allowed.

New Hanover County Deputy Attorney Sharon Huffman confirmed, “Concealed weapons are allowed in NHC parks to the degree that NC 14-415.23 provides.”


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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