Soldotna studies new gun rules for city parks

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2000

If you want to bring a firearm into a Soldotna park, make sure it's concealed. That could be the city's law if a new regulation being drafted now is approved this winter by the Soldotna City Council.

Andrew Carmichael, the city's parks and recreation director, said the exact language of the ordinance has not been set at this time and that he, City Manager Tom Boedeker and Brooks Chandler, the city attorney, continue to work on it.

"We hope by next season, when we open up our campgrounds, to have something in place that works for everyone," Carmichael said.

The regulations are being considered after Boedeker placed a ban on possession of any firearms in city parks this summer.

That ban came after Soldotna resident John Smallwood had his two pistols confiscated by a police officer while at Centennial Park this summer, where he said he often goes to fish. Smallwood said his guns were in shoulder holsters under his jacket.

Carmichael said the incident with Smallwood in mid-August triggered the ban, but there had been incidents at city parks before with others.

"(People) need to behave with their guns," Carmichael said. "They need to keep them stored -- out of sight, out of mind. Don't brandish them."

Smallwood and others testified before the council in Septmenber, saying the ban was unconstitutional and asking that it be lifted.

"The city has no business telling citizens they can't carry guns when they are involved in legal activities. The signs are illegal because there's no ordinance behind them," Smallwood said. "The city is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor for depriving others of their constitutional rights."

Sandy Taylor told the council that dogs can be just as dangerous, and someone having a gun in the park could be a lifesaver.

"If my Rottweiler grabs some kid by the face, I hope there's someone there with a gun to shoot it," she said.

Mike West testified that he often has a gun with him as he comes down river in his boat and puts in at Swiftwater Park.

"I guess at this point I would be breaking the law," he said. "The city needs to put signs up along the river."

At that Sept. 13 meeting, council member David Carey moved to have the signs taken down, but his motion died for lack of a second. Later that night, Mayor Ken Lancaster asked that the city attorney look into the issue and address Smallwood's concerns.

Meanwhile, Carmichael said the city was not interested in a permanent ban, and he didn't want to deter visitors to the parks, particularly tourists who travel by motor home.

"People obviously bring guns up, stored under their couch or somewhere, and we would hate them to be worried about it if they see a complete ban on it," he said. "If they are stored properly, they are not a problem."

Carmichael said visitors to the parks will not have to declare their firearms at the gates to the parks.

"They don't have to declare them unless they are asked," he said. "We need something workable for the every-day person who doesn't have to turn around and leave just because they have a gun in his truck."

Under the proposed regulation, Carmichael said if a police officer or a park attendant see a firearm in plain view, they will simply ask the gun's owner to conceal it or store it behind their car seat.

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