Local gun club sues the state
By Lynn R. Parks
Unlike the U.S. Constitution, Delawares code of laws is unambiguous in its protection of the right of an individual to own guns.
A person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and state, and for hunting and recreational use, Article 1, Section 20 of the states Constitution reads.
It is that section in conjunction with a 2014 decision by the Delaware Supreme Court saying that people who live in public housing cant be barred from owning guns that makes Jeff Hague with the Bridgeville Rifle & Pistol Club believe that a recent suit against the states ban on guns in state parks and state forests will be successful.
I believe that the regulations that exist now are unconstitutional, Hague said.
The privately owned rifle and pistol club, for which Hague serves as treasurer, is one of two sport shooting groups that filed the suit in Chancery Court in December. The other is the Delaware State Sportsmens Association, where Hague is a member of its board of directors and chief lobbyist at the General Assembly. There are also five individuals among the plaintiffs.
Named in the suit are the Department of Agriculture, which oversees state forests, and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which oversees state parks, as well as their directors.
In an email, DNREC deputy secretary Kara Coats said that the agency will vigorously defend against the lawsuit. We believe that the approach the department has taken is a balanced one and has proven historically that it is in the best interest of all users of public lands, she added. We allow appropriate firearms and archery equipment during seasons for those using these lands for recreational hunting, but do not believe it is appropriate to allow deadly weapons that are not associated with hunting in Delaware State Parks.
The Department of Agriculture declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Under regulations of the two agencies, people can carry guns on the states public land only if they are using them for hunting. The plaintiffs in the suit are asking for a preliminary injunction that would put the gun ban on hold while the case is being decided, and for an expedited decision. Where deprivations of constitutional rights are at issue, irreparable harm exists, the request for expedition says.
This is not the clubs first involvement in a lawsuit. It filed a brief in support of a 2010 complaint by two residents against the Wilmington Housing Authority and the authoritys ban on guns in common areas of its public housing complexes. In 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court decided that the ban was unlawful under Delawares Constitution. Also unlawful, the court decision said, was the authoritys requirement that residents who owned guns have any permit or license available at all times for inspection.
We were successful in ensuring that people who live in public housing have the same rights as everyone else, Hague said.
Winning the current suit would benefit people who travel to Sussex County to participate in shooting competitions at the rifle club, Hague said: We have a lot of competitors who like to go camping. They like to come down for a weekend, attend a match and then camp at Trap Pond State Park.
But the competitors are forbidden to take their firearms into the park. They end up staying the weekend in a motel, or they just dont come, Hague said.
The complaint describes other situations where it says that citizens rights are being denied. Plaintiff Mark Hester is retired from the Dover Police Department and has a license to carry a concealed weapon. He is also a licensed surf fisherman. But because of the ban on guns, he cannot take his weapon onto the several ocean beaches that are part of Delaware state parks.
Like Hester, plaintiff Kenneth Watkins has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He hunts on private land, but would like to be able to carry his concealed weapon onto public lands.
Plaintiffs Barbara and Roger Boyce are avid bicyclists and also have permits to carry guns. They would like to be able to do both on state lands. Hague said that if the gun ban is overturned, it would not change state law that forbids firing a gun in state parks or state forests, except in hunting. And he said that the suit is not about public safety. This is just about the fact that the Delaware Constitution allows somebody to bear arms, to be restricted only in certain narrow circumstances, he said.
If you want to go to a state park, it doesnt make any sense that you cant take a legal gun with you. The right to keep and bear arms does not stop at state parks.
That said, he added that anyone who took a gun into a state park or forest would be better able to protect himself.
If something should happen, and you have the ability to defend yourself, you should be able to do that, he said. You shouldnt have to leave the right to defend yourself at the state park gate.
News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers.
Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.