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City respects gun rights, mayor assures

Mount Airy officials’ recent adoption of an updated personnel policy — which includes prohibiting municipal employees from carrying weapons on city government property — shouldn’t be viewed as curtailing Second Amendment rights in general, according to Mayor Jon Cawley.

“That’s not at all what we were doing,” Cawley said Saturday in reference to a 4-1 vote by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners during a Sept. 7 meeting to approve a modernized version of a policy last amended 20 years ago.

While the 56-page list of employee regulations addresses many topics, one of its provisions has taken center stage since that meeting revolving around Commissioner Deborah Cochran.

It says: “No person, either paid or volunteer, is permitted to possess any firearm or other dangerous weapon while performing city duties, including while on any city property, in any city-owned vehicle, or in any personal vehicle used by the employee to perform duties.”

Cawley said Saturday that since the Sept. 7 action, concerns have emerged that it somehow served to undermine the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

“What we were dealing with was an employee handbook,” the mayor said of something that has become standard procedure in localities in terms of banning workers from bringing guns to work — except for law enforcement officers.

Cochran concerns

The issue has been made somewhat murky due to issues raised by Commissioner Cochran about whether an exception to that policy exists for someone with a concealed-carry permit for a gun, which she has.

Cochran, a former Mount Airy mayor, cast the lone dissenting vote against the updated personnel policy after being told that no such exception exists for permit holders. Cochran, while saying she had never brought a firearm to a council meeting, expressed a desire to be armed in order to protect herself when leaving the Municipal Building at night.

In responding to her concerns, city Human Resources Director Susan Jones suggested that Cochran be accompanied by others on such occasions.

There is a gray area involved, since because city commissioners do receive pay, they could be considered municipal employees and subject to the policy.

However, since this is a relatively small sum, there is a belief that board members could be classified as volunteers — also governed by the policy — because the pay does not adequately compensate them for all the hours they dedicate to the job.

The idea of whether Mount Airy council members are employees was focused on Saturday by Mayor Cawley, who acknowledged that Commissioner Cochran “is an employee of the city to some extent.”

Yet one key difference separates such individuals from rank-and-file municipal workers, he said of council members not being subjected to the same disciplinary oversight.

“Even the city manager does not have the authority to remove us from office.”

State guidelines 

Meanwhile, a sign in the Municipal Building’s front lobby states that possessing a weapon or carrying a concealed handgun there is not allowed, with a Spanish version posted outside the building.

This apparently applies to everyone — including city employees and regular citizens, with no specific language included pertaining to concealed-carry permits.

“But that’s not enforceable for people who are doing it legally,” Cawley said of such signage in reference to citizens possessing permits, who are required in North Carolina to complete a minimum eight-hour training course.

“It would not be our preference to have guns on city property,” he added regarding an overriding desire to avoid any liability or other problems from a potential shooting. The question is whether that has legal teeth.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein has weighed in on the matter concerning what is and is not allowed.

Concealed handguns, wielded by permit holders, may not be carried in any space occupied by state or federal employees, including state and federal courthouses, in schools or on school grounds, according to guidance issued by Stein.

There is no mention of municipal or county government settings, with the attorney general’s explanation noting that concealed handguns may not be carried “in any place of business that has posted a sign banning concealed weapons on its premises.”

Cawley emphasized that city officials want to allow the general public to be safe while also avoiding liability risks as addressed by the updated personnel policy.



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