County amends portion of emergency code related to firearms

Only governor, not local authorities, can restrict carrying of firearms

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

Updated: July 31, 2012, 7:59 PM

 

An it’s-only-there-if-we-need-it code was updated Tuesday to reflect the fact the chairman of the Board of Clark County Commissioners does not have authority to prohibit the possession of firearms in public during a declared emergency.

The code was adopted in 2005, the first time in 33 years the county’s emergency management ordinance had been updated. The ordinance was patterned by Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency after the state’s emergency code, which gives the governor authority to restrict the carrying of firearms in public, said Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecuting attorney.

However, local officials do not have that authority, Potter said.

The illegal code was pointed out to commissioners earlier this summer by resident Lynda Wilson.

Commissioners Steve Stuart, Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke voted to amend the code.

Stuart told Wilson that all of the county’s cities have similarly worded emergency ordinances, which give local officials wide authority to set curfews, close businesses and public places and restrict the sale of gasoline, liquor, firearms and ammunition.

The city of Camas’ code allows for the mayor or designate to have the power to “prohibit any person or persons from carrying or possessing upon any street, alley, highway or public place within the city any firearms, knives, clubs, rocks, bricks or other weapons, objects or contrivances susceptible for use in causing injury to persons or damage to property.”

Commissioners Boldt and Mielke also struck down related portions of the controversial county code. The code, in addition to prohibiting the carrying of firearms, prohibited the possession of “any instrument which is capable of producing bodily harm and which is carried or possessed with intent to use the same to cause such harm; provided, that any such order shall not apply to the possession of firearms which is subject to regulation by the state or to peace officers or military personnel engaged in the performance of their official duties.”

Mielke gave several examples of how he would need a weapon in an emergency, and in all of the scenarios he was using the weapon to defend himself. Potter reassured him that nothing in the code prevented people from defending themselves. The code was also never meant to restrict what weapons people can have on their property, Potter said.

Stuart was in favor of keeping the nonfirearms portion of the code, which Potter said was a handy tool that could be specifically tailored in an emergency.

Cheryl Bledsoe, CRESA’s emergency management division manager, encouraged commissioners to leave the option available.

Nobody at the meeting could recall a time when county commissioners have had to impose emergency orders.

Also Tuesday, commissioners voted to modify signs in county parks to clarify that while weapons (such as crossbows, slingshots and spears) are not allowed in parks, firearms are allowed. Sign replacement will be ongoing “and occur as staff and financial resources allow,” according to the staff report.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.