Firearms ordinance clears way for screening at County Administration Building

 

GEORGETOWN – An ever-changing world will bring a screen-test change for the public entering Sussex County’s governmental hub.

Sussex County Council Tuesday morning unanimously passed a firearms prohibition ordinance that clears the way for the county to install a mechanized security screening magnetometer device at the Sussex County Administration Building on The Circle.

A metal screening device is scheduled to be in place by next Monday at the Sussex County Administration Building in Georgetown following county council’s Oct. 31 approval of a firearms prohibition ordinance.

“I will vote in favor of it,” said county councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton, R-Lewes. “I just think the world has changed and we’ve got to change with it.”

“In the end this is not a Republican thing. It is not even a Democratic thing,” said county councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford. “I think it is just a common-sense thing. If it is lawful and if it is legal and if it is constitutional … I will vote in favor of this.”

The ordinance drew no objection from Jeff Hague, president of the Delaware State Sportsmen’s Association and a National Rifle Association member. He said both organizations were actually involved in crafting the legislation.

“Being extremely familiar with the history of this statute that you are basing the ordinance on … it goes back a couple years. There was an issue that raised its ugly head and the Delaware State Sportsmen’s and NRA in conjunction with attorneys representing the counties and municipalities crafted the statute which you are basing this ordinance on,” said Mr. Hague, among four speakers during a public hearing held prior to council’s vote. “We understand your reasons why the county council feels it necessary to go about the ordinance. It’s unfortunate to have it go this far in this day and age, but we all know things have changed. So, I am here not to oppose on behalf of the Delaware Sportsmen’s Association and the National Rifle Association.”

Prior to 2015 local towns and county governments were prohibited from enacting any law that restricted firearms.

In 2015 Delaware’s General Assembly passed House Bill 201 which gave locals governments the ability to enact ordinances to restrict possession of firearms in public buildings subject to specific requirements. “Sussex County at that time supported that legislation,” said Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson.

The magnetometer, which is to be installed by next Monday, is among safety and security improvements undertaken by the county in recent years.

Enhanced security for an improved work environment also include new policies and procedures, private security officers, security cameras and electronic key-controlled doors, said Mr. Lawson.

Specifically, installation of a magnetometer was the highest recommendation in a physical security assessment of county facilities performed by the Delaware Capital Police Department at the request of the county.

The ordinance short title states: “An ordinance to adopt Chapter 63, Section 63-1 of the code of Sussex County which shall prohibit possession of firearms, ammunition, components of firearms or explosives in all county buildings, subject to certain exceptions in accordance with Title 9, Section 330 of the Delaware Code.”

Ordinance exceptions include various forms of law enforcement and related shipments/training, sheriff’s office personnel, compliance by persons subject to protection from abuse, agents/messengers of common carriers, banks or business firms as well as individuals who hold a valid concealed-carry license in accordance with Delaware code, so long as the firearm is concealed except for inadvertent display or self-defense.

“These paragraphs were taken verbatim from the Delaware Code and applied to our county code,” said Mr. Lawson.

As for personnel, county staff and elected/appointed officials have county-issued identification cards and will not be subject to screening so long as they have on their person a valid ID card.

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

Council’s 5-0 approval followed the public hearing.

Georgetown-area resident Paul Reiger, a frequent speaker at council sessions, supported the ordinance. “You are not over-riding state law,” said Mr. Reiger. “It is definitely worthwhile doing this this way … excellent explanation.”

Greenwood resident Dan Kramer, another regular at county council meetings, delivered opposition.

“I’ve been coming here for the last 17, 20 years and there has never been a problem. Two years ago the issue of a metal detector raised its ugly head. At the time the administration wanted to make the county buildings a complete gun-free zone which was not permitted by state law at that time,” said Mr. Kramer. “For two years everything was fine and dandy. And all of a sudden, the metal detector raised its ugly head again. The state of Delaware is an open-carry state. This metal detector is not going to prevent from something happening. People will always find a way to do evil things. By removing guns, well that may make it more dangerous. Why are we even having this discussion? Because someone perceived that there is a problem when there isn’t any. Why do you need a metal detector when you have armed guards?”

“Who is required to go through the metal detector?” Mr. Kramer said. “My understanding is the council and county employees do not have to go through the metal detector and no concealed-carry has to go through as long as they have their permits. If there ever is a danger it is not going to come from the outside, it’s going to come from the inside – from your own employees. If somebody wants somebody bad enough there is plenty of ways to do it on the outside.”

Mr. Kramer added: “What are you going to do when a little old lady comes flying in that door and asks to use the restroom … and she is doing a dance? Well guess what? ‘Oh, you can’t go to the bathroom. You’ve got to go through the metal detector.’ Well, I hope she craps all over you.”

“I actually would agree with Mr. Kramer … as it relates to if somebody is going to do harm they are going to do harm,” Mr. Arlett said. “I think we all know that is society today.”

The magnetometer costs approximately $6,000. Funding was earmarked in the county budget.

“It goes without saying the administration supports this ordinance,” said Mr. Lawson. “I do have a number of county employees that have approached us prior to the introduction as well as during the introduction of this ordinance in support of this effort as they feel our security could be improved in our facilities.”

“I never heard one employee,” said county councilman Samuel Wilson Jr., R-Georgetown. “I heard there was one and then I went and spoke to the person and they said” it wasn’t from them.

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

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