- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 27, 2002

Two boards that oversee 390 parks in Northern Virginia have voted to uphold a long-standing ban on guns in public parks despite a new state law that restricts the ability of localities to regulate firearms.
The Fairfax County Park Authority's board voted 9-1 Wednesday to update and "streamline" regulations adopted 22 years ago, said authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen. But the board made an exception for a provision governing guns, leaving a ban intact. The authority operates 371 parks covering nearly 22,000 acres.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which has 19 parks on more than 10,000 acres, adopted its own revisions Thursday, except for an identical ban on firearms. Neither vote was related to the recent sniper shootings in the region, officials said. Proposals for the revised regulations have been under consideration for months.
A law passed this year and signed April 4 by Gov. Mark R. Warner prohibits localities and their agents from regulating the "purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying or transporting" of firearms or ammunition. The legislation was designed to bar local governments from adopting gun-control ordinances stricter than state law, but it exempted measures on the books before Jan. 1, 1987.
Park authority officials declined to answer questions on whether the gun bans were left intact because they were approved in 1980, thus predating the new law's effective date.
Attorneys for the county's authority "don't want us to comment on anything that has the potential to be an issue in the future," Miss Pedersen said. She said board members recognized that upholding the ban could be "the most controversial issue they've undertaken" but decided that the rule has served the parks well.
State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., Augusta Republican and sponsor of the legislation, said yesterday that he is disappointed by the park boards' actions.
"I would have thought they would consider the spirit of the law," Mr. Hanger said.
The rule that was retained by both boards from the 1980 regulations says that no person other than a police officer "shall possess in the park a firearm or other gun, unless it is dismantled or contained within a closed case," except in specially designated areas. The exceptions include a skeet-shooting range in Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville.
The two park authorities also contend that they are not bound by the new law because they are not municipalities but independent authorities. The law applies to a "locality" or "agent of such locality."
"I think a locality in Virginia refers to a county, city or town," said state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, an Arlington Democrat who opposed the new law. She said the gun bans should also stand because they fall under the new law's "grandfathering provisions."
"That regulation has been in place for over 20 years, and it's been a help, not a hindrance, to safety in the parks," said Katherine K. Hanley, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "I would hope that it doesn't run afoul of any other legislation."
But state Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, a Fairfax Democrat who also opposed the new law, said the park boards' actions were likely to be challenged by pro-gun groups or legislators, either by asking the state attorney general for an opinion or going to court.
"It's going to be a problem to keep sane gun-safety measures under that bill," she said. "I'm sure there will be a challenge" to the gun bans.
Mr. Hanger said he would not rule out sponsoring legislation if the bans are not challenged in court.

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