In a 6-3 preliminary vote Tuesday, the Fort Wayne City Council approved changes to a city ordinance banning firearms from city parks.
The proposal brought forward by Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th, will remove firearms from a list of items including paint ball guns, BB guns and fireworks that are prohibited from city parks. Arp and supporters of the change say the update is necessary to bring the ordinance into line with state law and possibly avoiding future costs in legal fees.
"The reason why is it is a violation to Indiana Code 35-47-11.1, which prohibits local units from the regulation of firearms," Arp told the council.
Dawn Hillyer, owner of HidingHilda LLC, which sells fashionable firearm accessories, said policies banning weapons from public spaces would make people, particularly women, feel less safe. Hillyer was the victim of a stalker. Hillyer said she got a concealed carry permit in order to protect herself when she learned her stalker was going to be granted early release from prison.
"I feel like I have a right to enjoy the Rivergreenway and everything else. I’m a longtime life resident of Fort Wayne," Hillyer said. "I love our public parks, but if I can’t feel protected in the parks, it’s more than taking away the firearm, you’re literally taking away my peace of mind, my empowerment."
Changing the law won’t have an actual impact on city policy, since changes to state law in 2011 regarding the carrying of firearms in public spaces supersede local ordinances, city attorney Carol Helton said.
"Because our ordinance predates the adoption of the state law, … it is not a violation of the state law for that ordinance to remain as written," Helton said, citing the 2013 case Dykstra v. City of Hammond.
Dykstra states, "regardless of whether the Ordinances were still in the Hammond Municipal Code, they became void upon the effective date of Indiana Code chapter 35-47-11.1. An individual cannot be adversely affected by a void ordinance, because by its very nature, a void ordinance is "[o]f no legal effect; null."
Therefore, taking the word "firearm" out of the city ordinance would have no legal impact whatsoever, Helton said.
Councilmen Geoff Paddock, D-5th, Glynn Hines, D-6th, and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, voted against the proposal.
"Many residents of the 5th District have contacted me, and they are overwhelmingly opposed to lifting the firearm restrictions and easing regulations on other weapons that could be used in our public parks," Paddock, who is the executive director of Headwaters Park, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, state law now allows this, providing an individual carries a personal protection permit."
Paddock also said the issue is one that should be discussed further with Fort Wayne’s delegation to the state legislature.
"It is only logical that local governments in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Huntington, Auburn, New Haven and every other city and town should make their own decisions regarding public safety in parks and other public entities," Paddock said.
Jehl said he believes there is a better way to clarify the city’s policy on firearms in public parks.
"We can allow personal protection permits and clear up the confusion that was described earlier, so that women can protect themselves," Jehl said. "We can easily do that without scaring parents and giving the general perception to the public that there are going to be more guns and less responsible people with them in public parks."
Councilman Tom Didier, R-3rd, joined Arp and Councilmen Paul Ensley, R-1st, Tom Freistroffer, R-at large, Michael Barranda, R-at large, and John Crawford, R-at large, in favor of the proposal. However, Didier said he was supporting the change only on its technical merits.
"Whether we voted yes or no for this, the state law is the state law, and the only way that can be changed is if you get ahold of your state representative," Didier said. "So I’m voting yes, but it’s only for the technicality, … because the law, is the law, is the law."