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Bucks officials overturn gun ban in county parks

Packing for a picnic has taken on added meaning in Bucks County.

Packing for a picnic has taken on added meaning in Bucks County.

The county commissioners last week rescinded a 14-year-old ban on bringing guns into county parks.

But if the ants invade, kindly resist the urge to blow them away. A ban on discharging firearms in the parks remains.

The commissioners acted on the advice of county solicitor Glenn Hains, who said the policy conflicted with state law. The Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 prohibits counties from regulating "the lawful ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation" of firearms.

The law permits gun bans in schools and court facilities. Otherwise, Hains said, "firearms can be carried on the streets of Doylestown or at the grocery store. It's not like parks are different from anywhere else."

The revision did not sit well with at least some residents at last week's meeting.

"I find this just unbelievable, that you can't control your own parks and that they would allow firearms," said Madeline Rawley of Doylestown. "After they're discharged, it's a little late if someone's been harmed."

Commissioners Chairman Charles Martin responded: "Obviously the commissioners previously agreed with your position, but the law is the law."

Martin was among the commissioners who passed the ban in 1997. Similar restrictions remain on the books in Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties, although Montgomery County spokesman John Corcoran said the ban there was no longer being enforced.

Northampton Township resident Ken Richmond was among at least two residents who complained to Bucks County about the ban. Richmond, saying he was not a gun-rights activist but "a proponent of rights in general," said he had seen the ban posted at a county park.

"When I saw there was a conflict with state law," he said, "I wrote a letter to the commissioners."

Sandra Schiff of Doylestown said the unexpected sight of someone carrying a gun in a park might put people on edge.

"I think that is really asking for problems," she said at the commissioners' meeting.

In February, the sight of a man openly wearing a handgun on his hip in Philadelphia - legally, it turned out - led to a much-publicized confrontation with city police.

In recent years, a so-called "open carry" movement, pushing to normalize the sight of openly carried guns, has gained momentum. But Richmond said he was pushing no such agenda in Bucks.

"Parks aren't different from anyplace else," said David Heckler, the county's district attorney. "I think that's all the rescinding of the ban amounts to."

Max Nacheman, executive director of CeasefirePA, a gun-violence prevention group, said seeing guns in parks "would make me feel uncomfortable" because too many criminals are still able to obtain guns illegally.

"Folks feel uncomfortable because they cannot be certain that the person carrying the gun is not a criminal," he said. "We are less concerned with where the gun is carried than with who is carrying it."