Here’s an idea to curtail gun violence at Romare Bearden Park

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On New Year’s Eve, five people were shot below the knee at uptown’s Romare Bearden Park.

The Dec. 31 violence is becoming somewhat of a regular occurrence: WSOC-TV reported that 10 people were shot in and around the park in 2023.

Republican Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari has called for a city task force to make uptown safer by looking at law enforcement solutions as well as examining the underlying causes of the violence.

The idea appears to be gaining momentum, with Bokhari saying other council members are on board, as well as Republican lawmakers and Mecklenburg District Attorney Spencer Merriweather.

Inside Politics wondered: Instead of a deep dive about crime (that will likely take months), can the city of Charlotte keep guns out of the park by putting up fencing and having people pass through screening stations — at least for big events?

After all, you can’t bring weapons into a City Council meeting.

Why not a prohibition on firearms inside the small, four-acre park?

There could still be gun violence outside Romare Bearden, of course, but fencing and limited entrances could act as a deterrent.

There are clear drawbacks.

Setting up fencing around the park (with Mecklenburg County’s permission) and having police officers wand people entering would cost a lot of money. It would be a hassle. It would make uptown look like a police state.

But a variation of this has been done before, with Charlotte’s old “extraordinary events ordinance.”

That was passed before the Democratic National Convention in 2012. It gave police additional search powers and prohibited people from carrying items like chains, rocks and weapons. It was repealed in 2017 because CMPD said it was no longer necessary.

City Council member Malcolm Graham said that while people criticized the ordinance from a civil rights perspective, it might be worth a discussion to bring it back.

He was less enthusiastic about fencing the park and wanding everyone who enters.

“I don’t want to have knee-jerk reactions,” Graham said.

What does the state say about guns?

The GOP-controlled General Assembly has expanded gun rights for concealed permit holders, but it appears there could be a way for the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to prohibit most guns inside Romare Bearden Park for future events.

There are three scenarios in which someone could bring a gun into the park.

  • Have a concealed carry permit.
  • Open-carry a rifle or other gun. People sometimes do this at political protests.
  • Hide a handgun in a bag or your pants.

Let’s start with concealed carry.
State law has long prohibited cities and towns from passing their own regulations as to where people can legally carry concealed weapons, with few exceptions.

One exception is government-owned buildings. The other exception is “recreational facilities.”

In 2013, the General Assembly detailed what recreational facilities are, and the intent appears to be to prohibit people from bringing guns to sporting events. The law, however, specifically says that concealed carry is allowed on greenways and bikeways, as well as “open areas or fields where athletic events may occur.”

State law prohibits guns of any kind — even with a concealed carry permit — “at any parade, funeral procession, picket line, or demonstration upon any private health care facility …”

A New Year’s Eve celebration is similar to a parade, but it’s hard to argue that it is one.

All that suggests that if someone has a concealed carry license, the city of Charlotte can’t stop them from bringing a gun into Romare Bearden Park.

But what about enforcing a general prohibition on guns, with exceptions for people with concealed carry permits?

State law specifically says that cities, towns and counties can prohibit “the possession of firearms in public-owned buildings, on the grounds or parking areas of those buildings, or in public parks or recreation areas …”

And the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (which owns Romare Bearden) already have ordinances prohibiting guns in their parks.

Could the city then put up fencing around the park, and have a handful of entrances so people could be wanded and searched?

People with handguns and concealed carry permits would be allowed to enter, as the law allows. People with concealed handguns and no permit would be arrested, as would anyone who attempts to enter the park with a rifle across their shoulder.

And could the city give CMPD more leeway — through a new extraordinary events ordinance — to stop and search people?

(That would create new problems about potential profiling.)

Inside Politics texted with Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker about that idea.

He said maybe — but cautioned it might be difficult for the city to search people without a reasonable suspicion that they are about to commit a crime.

Murders down — but uptown feels less safe

In an interview, Bokhari said he hadn’t thought yet about what gun control measures the city could take.

The uptown shootings come as the city has received some good news about overall crime. CMPD says there were 96 people murdered in the city in 2023, down from 107 in 2022.

But uptown has become a particular problem.

Last summer, Fourth Ward residents urged the city to take stronger action against public drinking and public defecation and urination. July 4th celebrations were marred by chaos and fights that led to 47 people being arrested.

And now the New Year’s Eve shootings at Romare Bearden.

Said Graham: “We can’t have a shooting in uptown Charlotte. That’s our living room. That’s our center of commerce. People live in uptown.”

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