Is it fair to ban concealed carry at the North Carolina State Fair?

A judge recently upheld the ban on firearms at the North Carolina State Fair.

Photo by Kevin Oliver (Flickr)

This article is the second in a three-part series on recently proposed gun control measures. You can read Part One here.

A a recent court challenge was brought against the firearms ban that is in place for the North Carolina State Fair.  The lawsuit was brought because the ban prohibits individuals who are legally permitted to carry concealed firearms from doing so on the grounds of the State Fair.

In ruling on the matter, Judge Donald Stephens of the Wake County Superior Court said that it “would be unwise and imprudent to allow firearms into the State Fair.”

Prudence, however, is often not as clear-cut as it might first appear.  There are arguments about prudence that can be made by both sides this issue.  This debate raises an important question as to what happens when one person’s right to bear arms comes up against another person’s right to feel safe.

Restrictions on weapons allowed into the State Fair have been in place for decades.  The validity of these restrictions was called into question, however, when the North Carolina legislature passed House Bill 937 in 2013.  Supporters argue that this law made it permissible to conceal and carry weapons in places that charge admission.  Opponents, however, question whether the legislature intended the law’s provisions to include locales such as the State Fair.

The rationale for the ban, according the North Carolina Attorney General, was that the ban aimed to mitigate the dangers posed by a person carrying a gun onto one of the rides at the fair.  The drafters of the ban were concerned about instances in which ride passengers inadvertently drop items while on rides at the fair.  If a firearm were to be dropped from a passenger on a ride and the gun incidentally fired, the consequences could lead to significant injury.

The State was also concerned that a concealed gun lost by a ride passenger could be picked up by a small child or another person who was not authorized to possess it.  Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, whose Department runs the State Fair, expressed the Department’s desire to “minimize risk and maintain a family-friendly environment.”

The Department of Agriculture’s assertion that the ban maintains a family-friendly environment elicited the response from opponents of the ban.  Those that oppose the ban argue that, despite the Department’s desire to bring about that type of environment at the fairgrounds, situations at the State Fair could turn dangerous at any time.

An environment in which a large number of people gather provides the perfect opportunity for a perpetrator, bent upon doing violence to other people, to get lost in the crowd.  A determined criminal could find a way to circumvent security measures that are in place at the State Fair.  Individuals primarily carry concealed firearms to protect themselves in potentially dangerous situations, such as an armed and dangerous criminal in a crowded public space.  Those opposed to the ban argue that to deny that protection is asking too much.

Opponents of the ban claim that the right to bear arms should not be dependent upon where a person is located because the cases of Heller v. The District of Columbia and McDonald v. Chicago established that the right to bear arms is a universal individual right.  There may be places, however, where it is unsuitable for a person to have a firearm with them.

The legal process necessary for a person to conceal and carry a firearm requires that the gun owner comply with certain requirements.  Included among the requirements is that the gun owner attend a class on the safe and proper use of firearms, including the proper use of gun safety equipment.

Opponents of the weapons ban argue that modern holsters are highly capable of fastening a gun securely to the wearer, therefore the risk of the gun falling off on a ride is significantly diminished.  Those who conceal and carry firearms, however, do not always use modern holsters, and for that reason, the dangers that are posed by a gun taken on a fair ride persist.

The legal battle over this issue has likely not been fully resolved yet, and like the State Fair itself, it will return again like clockwork in years to come.

John Mace, Former Senior Staff Writer
About John Mace, Former Senior Staff Writer (19 Articles)
John served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. He is originally from Concord, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012 with degrees in Political Science and History and a minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. John worked as an assistant for Sha Hinds-Glick with the Bar Success program at Campbell. He graduated from Campbell Law School in May 2015.
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