County council pulls introductory trigger on firearms ordinance

GEORGETOWN – Sussex County Council has pulled the introductory trigger on an ordinance that would provide screening for firearms at the county’s administrative hub.

In efforts to enhance and improve security in county buildings, the county plans to install a magnetometer at the main entrance of County Administration Building – the base for many administrative offices and operations located on The Circle.

Introduced by county council Oct. 10, the ordinance would allow the county to screen and prohibit firearms – unless an individual is qualified and certified by the state to carry a firearm under Delaware Code.

This amendment to Sussex County code would encompass firearms, ammunition, components of firearms and explosives in all county buildings subject to certain exceptions in accordance with Title 9 of Delaware Code.

“Prior to 2015 local towns and county governments were prohibited from enacting any law restricting firearms,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson. “In 2015 the state legislature passed House Bill 201, which gave local governments the ability to enact ordinances to restrict the possession of firearms in public buildings subject to specific requirements. Sussex County supported that legislation and actively worked to see that it passed.”

Mr. Lawson noted that because of Delaware law and the prohibition of restrictions on firearms in county buildings “we have to enact an ordinance before we can put the ‘mags’ in and prohibit firearms in the county buildings.”

All other weapons, such as knives, can be prohibited simply through policy and procedure, Mr. Lawson said.

With Oct. 10 introduction, the next step is a public hearing before county council. The public hearing is required due to potential amendment of county code.

“This process would allow for the public to provide their input?” asked county councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford.

“Certainly,” said Mr. Lawson.

At the county’s request, a security assessment of county facilities performed by the Delaware Capital Police Department provided several recommendations with an emphasis on improving the access and security of county buildings.

“Specially, their highest recommendation was the installation of mechanicalized security screening through magnetometers,” Mr. Lawson said. “We are now prepared to move forward with the installation of this device in this building.”

County councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, introduced the ordinance. He asked if there is “anything different in this ordinance as we see in maybe what Kent County or New Castle County, I mean basically did we take an ordinance and basically copy it?”

Mr. Lawson said because it is so strict within Delaware Code, “we literally adopted the parameters that are listed in Delaware Code that allow the county to proceed in this manner.”

Over the past few years the county has focused on improving safety and security of its operations.

Thus far, efforts include installation of additional enhanced security measures in the form of private security officers, numerous security cameras, enhanced lighting and electronic/key controlled doors.

“Feedback from our employees has been extremely positive,” said Mr. Lawson. “However, I have personally heard from several of our employees who requested the county do more to improve the security of facilities, including this building, the West Complex and the county libraries.”

Sussex County Councilman Samuel Wilson Jr. poses a question during discussion on the county’s plan to install screening equipment for firearms at the County Administration building.

“Has there been a reason why we need to do this?” asked county councilman Samuel Wilson Jr., R-Georgetown. “Why should we spend all this extra money? For what? We finding dangerous people coming in here with guns?”

“One of the issues has been the concern of our employees who have expressed that to Mr. Lawson on numerous occasions, apparently,” said county council president Michael Vincent, R-Seaford.

“I haven’t ever heard from one employee. They should have come to me, at least I can vote for the rest of the public in here,” said Mr. Wilson.

“If we don’t choose to, it doesn’t make any difference, does it?” Mr. Wilson asked.

“We can vote it down, vote it up,” said Mr. Vincent. “It’s our choice.”

“Does this mean we are going to get a ‘pat-down’ when we come through the doors?” Mr. Wilson asked.

“No sir it does not mean that,” said Mr. Vincent.

“Save the question for the public hearing,” said Mr. Arlett.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.