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Russellville ordinance would ban concealed guns at parks

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RUSSELLVILLE – A proposed ordinance that would outlaw concealed handguns on city-owned land in Russellville is drawing the ire of gun rights activists and the praise of some seeking to protect children.

The ordinance will go before the City Council on Thursday for its third reading.

It was introduced by the Parks and Recreation Department after a handgun was discovered on the hip of a man during a child's birthday party at a local park.

According to Alderman Mark Tripp, Russellville Police responded to a call and was forced to call the Parks Department because there was confusion over whether concealed weapons were allowed on that particular park. It was determined the park was property belonging to the United States Corps of Engineers, who forbid all handguns on their premises.

"With having a good portion of our parks being leased from the Corps, it can't all be the same policy," said Tripp. "What I think [the Parks Department] is trying to do is unify our policy so that enforcement can be universal across all of our parks."

The city ordinance, if passed, would echo U.S. Corps of Engineer policy that forbids the possession of loaded firearms on Corps property.

Tripp says ultimately the goal of the ordinance is to protect the safety of children at city parks.

"Just like in a school zone, parks are mainly utilized by children and the least amount of guns or activity around guns would definitely be the best," said Tripp.

However, the proposal has stirred up local gun activists concerned the City Council may try and impose on Constitutional rights.

"You're allowed to carry at state parks so now why is the city of Russellville trying to decide, ‘You know, that's not good enough for our town. We're just going to prohibit that in all parks,'" said George Holt, president of the Arkansas River Valley Gun Club. "So yeah, I feel like I'm being picked on just a little bit."

Tripp admits he has received numerous complaints about the proposal, as it's currently written. He is the liaison for the Parks and Recreations Department.

"It's not an issue at all of trying to take someone's rights away," said Tripp. "What we're trying to do is unify and clarify the enforcement of it."

At Russellville City Park, the biggest in the city, many residents were in favor of the legislation that they say would ensure safety for their kids by reducing the risk of a gun-related accident.

"There's too many kids running around and you know you turn your head and you leave it there and a kid could come and run up and take it," said Blaine Richey, a frequent visitor of the City Park.

Russellville City Attorney William Smith III is preparing the final wording of the ordinance before Thursday's reading at the City Council meeting.

Late Thursday night, the proposal caught the attention of at least one state lawmaker.

"The proposed ordinance appears to be in violation of A.C.A. 14-54-1411 that specifically prohibits these types of ordinances," Rep. Nate Bell (R-District 22) tweeted to KATV Thursday night.

Local regulation of firearms and ammunition is restricted, according to Arkansas code.

In 2002, then-Attorney General Mark Pryor wrote in an opinion, "A.C.A. § 14-54-1411 prohibits a mayor from issuing any directive or order concerning firearms that is inconsistent with state or federal law."

A final draft of the ordinance is expected to be prepared for Aldermen by Monday.

"I feel confident that Mr. Smith will make sure this language not violate any concealed permit statute," said Tripp.

Residents like Holt say they will request a copy of the final draft next week.

"In 17 years there's not been a shooting in our park with someone with a concealed handgun permit," he said. "What's this concern?"

The City Council is not guaranteeing a vote will occur Thursday June 14. The ordinance may still be tabled for a later date.

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