Following suit with city of Oak Harbor, Island County is setting its sights on doing away with its own decades-old section of code banning the public possession of firearms in parks by citizens.
That was one of a series of proposed revisions to the park’s 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 parks 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 protested the code they considered an infringement of their Second Amendment rights.
Although the county’s proposed park rule changes were discussed the day after the Oak Harbor meeting, Price Johnson and other county officials said the timing was 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 park’s code needed an overhaul as well, they said
“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 determined more than two years earlier that the section of code forbidding guns in county parks violates both state law and court precedent.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson proposed a resolution to address the ban, but neither Price Johnson nor former Commissioner Angie Homola would support the change at the time. Emerson handed out the resolution at the meeting, but her colleagues had concerns about some of the wording and a possibility for process redundancy.
The commissioners agreed that the code needs to be revised in order to conform with state law. However, 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 preventing the public from wearing firearms to board meetings.
The board agreed unanimously to move forward with the amendments and the entire package is once again to go through legal review. Once completed, the board will set a public hearing and take a vote.
Oakes said he expects that vote to happen sometime in late March.
During an interview this week, Emerson said the rule change for guns in parks “could have been sooner” but added she is satisfied that the code will soon be changed to comply with state law.
“At least we got there,” she said.