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N.C. cities choose stricter gun law

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At least a dozen North Carolina cities are opting in to a portion of a new gun law that allows them to ban concealed weapons in some public areas.

The state law, which went into effect Dec. 1, allows people with valid gun permits to carry certain types of concealed weapons into public parks, waterways and highway rest stops. However, the law allows municipalities to pass more restrictive ordinances banning legally permitted concealed handguns from recreational facilities, defined as "a playground, an athletic field, a swimming pool, and an athletic facility."

Previously, municipalities could choose to ban concealed weapons in entire parks; the law essentially shrinks the area where cities and towns can prohibit guns.

In the Triangle, elected officials in Chapel Hill, Cary and Raleigh have chosen to ban concealed weapons in areas detailed in the law. However, Raleigh is taking a stronger stand. In the next legislative session, the city plans to ask lawmakers for an exemption. Raleigh City Attorney Thomas McCormick stated in a press release that, "The Council members unanimously believe it is bad policy and are seeking to change the law at the first opportunity."

The Durham City Council asked its staff attorneys last week for a recommendation, expected early next year. Councilman Mike Woodard says the city is taking a "comprehensive look to find out what we need to do to keep our parks and public areas safe given the provisions of House Bill 650, and make sure we adopt the appropriate ordinances."

The law, which originated as House Bill 650, amended statewide concealed-handgun laws to limit local governments' ability to regulate them.

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence (NCGV) has lobbied cities to pass their own ordinances. NCGV Executive Director Roxane Kolar describes it as a "city-by-city campaign," reaching out to municipalities to make sure they are aware of their revised rights. NCGV has also drafted form letters to editors and politicians, and compiled informational resources for activists and local governments.

It's an alarming development for NCGV, especially considering that, even if a city passes its own ordinance, permit holders can carry and store a concealed handgun in a locked vehicle. But the group considers banning concealed handguns from local recreational facilities a small victory. "This is the only piece that's been left to us, barring some major changes at the state level," Kolar says. "I don't think we're going to see that anywhere in the near future."

The law also expands North Carolina's "Castle Doctrine," which allows a person to legally shoot someone in self-defense at home or on private property. The definition of "castle" has been extended to include a car and a workplace if someone must use deadly force in response to a perceived extreme threat.

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