The right to bear arms, protected under the U.S. Constitution, came under fire Monday night as Quakertown officials examined a park ordinance prohibiting open carrying.
An unidentified local resident and gun owner recently pointed out to borough officials that based on section 6120 of Pennsylvania State Firearms Law, they cannot prohibit the “open carry” of a firearm on borough property.
The law clearly states, “No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”
Currently, the park ordinance prohibits firearms on borough property which basically is breaking state law. Borough Manager Scott McElree explained, “It’s not that we’re allowing firearms in the park. We’re not prohibiting them in the park.”
McElree went on to explain, “Council can still prohibit weapons, just not firearms.”
He also discussed an ordinance already in place that prohibits the discharge of firearms in the limits of the borough.
Once the change in the park ordinance is voted on by council it will allow someone to openly carry a firearm on borough land; however, that person may not discharge the weapon without serious legal consequences. Concealed weapons are allowed but the owner must possess a permit.
Councilman Don Rosenberger said, “There’s really nothing we can do about it. This is state law and we need to vote on changing our ordinance.”
Upon further discussion of the re-wording of the park ordinance, a vote will be taken by officials.
Sarah Buzdygon, Quakertown resident for 28 years, expressed her concerns regarding the ordinance change by stating, “I do not see the point of needing to ‘openly’ carry a weapon. Why do I need to see that a person is carrying a gun if it is meant to be for his own personal protection? Keep it in your jacket or purse. Furthermore, I don’t want to have to explain to my young child why a man or woman would be carrying a gun at his soccer game or while he’s playing at the playground.”
Officials in Lower Salford Township, Montgomery County faced a similar issue in 2008 when a review of their public park rules was triggered by a resident who questioned the constitutionally of a similar regulation against openly carrying weapons. After seeking a legal opinion from their solicitor, who confirmed that the state law only prohibits guns in schools and courthouses or on the streets of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, supervisors changed their park rules.
In early 2009, Lower Salford officials removed the regulation prohibiting the “open carry” of guns from the rules for their township parks, but discharging it in the parks remained illegal.
Officials also discussed details regarding the park planned for Fourth and Mill streets located at the former Krupp Foundry site. The project has an estimated cost of $1.5 million which would be completed in two phases.
Funds of $412,000 for phase I are already obtained with a large portion of the money coming from the county’s open space program. This phase could begin as early as 2013 and includes land development, storm water management, a basic walking trail, water feature, and portions of a parking lot.
If all goes well the second phase will begin in 2014-15 which includes an amphitheater, bathrooms, snack stand, and extended walking trails and lighting. The price tag for this portion of the project is $550,000.
Officials are pursuing a $250,000 Pennsylvania DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) grant as well as large funding sources such as corporate donations and possible naming rights. The hope is to not pull money from the borough’s general fund for the project.
Borough Manager Scott McElree admits, “It’s a challenge but I think we’ll be successful. We need to stay focused on large funding sources.”