County amends ordinance to allow permitted concealed weapons in parks
Commissioners voted Tuesday to amend an ordinance and allow permitted concealed firearms and weapons at county parks to conform to state law.
Florida statutes allow people to carry a concealed weapon or firearm in a state park, but they must possess a Florida Concealed Weapon or Firearm License. An amendment was proposed to Lee County Parks and Recreation Ordinance 06-26, which prohibited firearms and weapons in county parks.
County park property ranges from Conservation 20/20 land to baseball fields.
During public comment, residents voiced their concerns about allowing concealed firearms and weapons at county parks where children play. Mert Leeman, administrator of the Florida District 9 Little League, said he is not against the right to bear arms or the right to carry a concealed weapon.
“I just don’t know if it’s the right place to have a concealed weapon, at a youth sporting event,” he said.
Leeman said fights have occurred between adults attending games.
“Kids are kids. They like to play ball and go home and have fun,” he said. “Parents take it a little differently.”
South Fort Myers Little League president Howard Gold said allowing firearms at youth sporting events is a safety issue, especially for the children there.
Commissioner Ray Judah said the county needs to comply with the Florida statutes and in that sense, he supported the amendment. He added that he recognizes that the county has different parks though that offer different outdoor recreational activities.
“There’s a time and a place for guns and the right to bear arms,” Judah said.
Youth sporting events are not the right place, he said. Judah referred to a recent altercation at a Pop Warner football playoff game in Buckingham that involved more than 100 people, most of whom were parents and adults in attendance.
“This is just one example of the heightened attention, anxiety and emotions that are expressed at these youth events,” he said. “It’s about making sure we have a safe environment for children.”
A Little League coach himself for more than 18 years, Judah plans to appeal to the Florida Legislature to amend the statutes to be consistent in terms of the prohibition of concealed firearms and weapons. State law prohibits them at professional sporting events and at school events, according to Judah.
The proposed amendment to the ordinance passed unanimously, 5-0.
The issue of prohibiting concealed weapons and firearms at parks arose after Amanda Buckley filed a lawsuit in August against Lee County claiming that the county ordinance and related park signs were not consistent with state law pertaining to weapons and firearms, according to documents.
Upon review, county staff concluded that the amendment was “prudent and appropriate,” the documents state. County staff recommended adopting the amendment, believing that it would “facilitate rapid settlement” in the suit.
Attorney Patrick Buckley, Amanda Buckley’s husband, is representing her in the lawsuit against the county. According to Patrick, the lawsuit claims that the county ordinance is null and void based on Florida law, that counties and cities have no authority to make laws that deal with firearms possession.
“My lawsuit says counties stay out of it. It’s up to the state Legislature,” he said. “There’s no need to conform because the state law is already there.”
A motion is set for Monday in the lawsuit.
Buckley said he will ask the judge to enter an order in his and his client’s favor. According to court documents, he is asking that the county ordinance be declared invalid and that the county take down the signs at the parks that prohibit firearms or remove the part about prohibiting guns from the signs.
According to Buckley, no one from the county had connected him about a settlement as of Tuesday afternoon.