Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 16, 2012

Commissioners approve ordinance on guns in parks

County is now in compliance with state law

GOSHEN —  Elkhart County is now in compliance with state law when it comes to the carrying of firearms in county parks.

Elkhart County Commissioners Monday voted unanimously to rewrite the current county ordinance banning all weapons in county parks to make an exception for gun owners who are licensed to carry concealed weapons. The rewrite will bring the county in step with current Indiana law passed last February as part of Indiana Senate Bill 292.

The law, sponsored by Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville, essentially does away with all rules that prohibit licensed gun owners from carrying their weapons on public property, including libraries, public hospitals, at city council meetings and in public parks. The law does make exceptions for particularly sensitive areas, including schools, courts and law enforcement offices.

Monday was not the first encounter Elkhart County Commissioners have had with the request for an ordinance rewrite, however.

County Parks Director Larry Neff originally took the request before the commissioners during their April 2 meeting, where it was tabled after Commissioner Terry Rodino indicated he would most likely not support a rewrite.

“The park is a place to go play, not a place to go play with your gun,” Rodino said at the time, noting that while he himself is a gun owner, he does not feel that they should be allowed in public parks.

Only two members of the three-commissioner board were present at the April 2 meeting — Mike Yoder and Rodino. Commissioner Frank Lucchese was away on other business.

Due to the sensitivity of the matter and the fact that one commissioner was absent, Yoder requested that the rewrite be tabled until Lucchese could vote on the matter.

During Monday’s meeting, all three members of the board were present to hear the request, and little discussion occurred before the board voted unanimously to approve the rewrite.

“This seems to be clarifying the ordinance,” Rodino said.

Yoder agreed.

“This does now meet state law as far as I can determine,” Yoder said.

Despite his vote Monday to allow the ordinance rewrite to proceed, Rodino in his closing comments did reaffirm his belief that guns do not belong in county parks.

“I’m not opposed to guns. I’m not opposed to people carrying guns,” Rodino said. “The parks department is a place where a lot of children go. I felt guns shouldn’t be in a public park. Those were my statements, and I stand by those statements.”

As passage of the ordinance rewrite did not require a public hearing, the commissioners elected not to allow public comment before voting. In explaining their decision, County Attorney Gordon Lord indicated that the traditional avenue for commenting on park-related matters would be to attend a county park board meeting, not a meeting of the commissioners.

“The commissioners are marginally involved,” Lord said of park board-related business. “They’re just offering the enforcement option.”

Neff concurred, indicating that an open session allowing public comment on the proposed ordinance rewrite was held during a county park board meeting last December, though it was admittedly sparsely attended by the public.

Audience member Jason Obendorf, current Republican candidate for a seat on the Elkhart County Council, questioned Neff on how the general public is notified about when a park board meeting is scheduled to take place, and what topics are up for discussion.

“Through the (news)paper,” Neff responded. “Other than that, that’s just about it.”

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