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Why Some Are Planning To Sue Unless Guns Are Admitted To NC State Fair

A picture of a handgun being pulled from a purse.

The North Carolina General Assembly expanded the rights of concealed-carry permit holders last year. But now, Agriculture officials and gun rights activists disagree about what that means for the State Fair.

Grass Roots North Carolina activists have threatened to sue the Fair, saying that includes the fairgrounds in Raleigh.

The fair has a long standing gun ban. But new language in state law now allows concealed-carry permit holders to have firearms at any assembly where a fee has been charged for admission.

Paul Valone is the president of  Grass Roots North Carolina. He said he's speaking with legal counsel about taking action against the Fair unless it allows concealed-carry permit holders to bring their firearms. He wants a temporary injunction against the fair's ban.

At issue is an interpretation to a recent change to the NC state laws.

“We have changed the law. The General Assembly has spoken on assemblies of people for which admission is charged. Concealed handgun permit holders who have had background checks and training (are) now legal there,” Valone said. “We are asking the Commissioner to obey the law.”

But state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler says the language is still unclear.

“If it's not challenged in court or if there's no restraining order, we would continue that policy of no weapons at the state fair,” Troxler said.

Valone says the Agriculture Department's concerns about concealed weapons are unfounded. He cites NC Justice Department data showing a reduction of crime since concealed carry permits were legalized in the mid-1990s.

But Commissioner Troxler said he doesn't think a law-abiding permit holder would bring a gun to do harm at the State Fair. Rather, he worries about misfires in the crowd, or guns falling out of pockets from rides, as cell phones and keys do.

Earlier this week, a Connecticut man working at the Robeson County Fair was shot and killed in Lumberton.  Multiple media outlets reported that Edward Reiner was shot after a fight behind a convenience store across the street from the fair Monday night. Reiner worked for Dreamland Amusement, a company that  will provide entertainment at the Robeson Fair. At the time of the incident, the fair was not yet open to the public. It is  set to open tomorrow.

The State Fair runs October 16th through the 26th In Raleigh.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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