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Island County to allow guns in parks

Following the lead of Oak Harbor, Island County has set its sights on doing away with its own decades-old section of code concerning the public possession of firearms in parks.

That was one of a series of proposed revisions to the parks code reviewed by the commissioners last week. Most are housekeeping items but a section that bans all but authorized law enforcement personnel from having guns in park is being tagged for removal strictly for legal reasons.

“The action is meant to align with state law, which says no one can exclude folks from having weapons in parks,” said Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, chairwoman of the board.

The changes were discussed just one day after a widely publicized and controversial meeting in Oak Harbor, in which the city council agreed to do away with its years old prohibition.

The meeting drew the largest crowd seen at a council meeting in years, totaling nearly 180 people. Many in attendance were armed and present in protest of a law they considered an infringement of their Second Amendment rights.

Although the county’s proposed park rule changes were discussed the day after the brouhaha in Oak Harbor, Price Johnson and other county officials maintain the timing was largely coincidental.

The revisions have been in the works for some time and were discussed by the board more than six months ago. Action was delayed, however, because other sections of the parks code needed an overhaul as well.

“We’ve been working on these since last summer,” said Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works.

In July, Oakes informed the board that the prosecutor’s office had determined more than two years before that the section of code forbidding guns in county parks violated both state law and court precedent.

Commissioner Kelly Emerson proposed a resolution to address the problem but neither Price Johnson nor former Commissioner Angie Homola would support the document at the time.

Emerson handed out the resolution at the meeting for the first time and Emerson’s colleagues had concerns about some of the wording and a possibility for process redundancy.

Both agreed that the code needed to be revised, however, in order to conform with state law. In fact, Price Johnson asked for the issue to be put on the agenda for discussion last year.

Similarly, the commissioner confirmed last week that there are no county ordinances that block the public from wearing firearms to board meetings, as happened in Oak Harbor.

All the revisions discussed last year — some had been completed at the time — were sent back for legal review but additional changes were later introduced and the issue was brought back again last Wednesday.

The board agreed unanimously to move forward with the amendments and the entire package is once again to go through legal review. Once complete, the board will set a public hearing and take a vote.

Oakes said he expects that to happen sometime in late March.

In an interview this week, Emerson said the rule change for guns in parks “could have been sooner” but she was satisfied that the code will soon be changed to comply with state law.

“At least we got there,” she said.

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