Posting the new Lackawanna County park rules would put the county in violation of state law and open the county up to federal lawsuits, a state gun rights advocate warned Friday.
The new rules prohibit "unlicensed firearms" from county parks, language county officials have acknowledged needs to be re-examined. That review is not anticipated to delay the posting of the rules, said county solicitor John O'Brien.
"The way it's set up now, legal gun possession has not been made illegal by this law," Mr. O'Brien said. "Whatever is previously proper and legal continues to be so."
But because all guns in the state are unlicensed, the law can also be interpreted to ban the carrying of all guns in county parks, argued Kim Stolfer, chairman of Firearm Owners Against Crime, a statewide gun rights group.
"The way it's crafted, 'no unlicensed firearms' ... since we don't license firearms (in Pennsylvania) they will all be banned by virtue of that language," Mr. Stolfer said. "They've blatantly done this even though they've been notified ahead of time ... (and) they're setting themselves up for a federal civil rights action."
County commissioners approved last month nine pages of new rules for county-owned parks that include bans on smoking, parking on grass, skateboarding and unsupervised children under 14 in the parks. There was no public hearing or public comment period before the rules were adopted.
While other rules were based on park rules elsewhere across the state and nation, Mr. O'Brien said the language on firearms was created by county officials with the intent to address the possession of illegal weapons in county parks.
"So we're examining it. Maybe that word (unlicensed) isn't right. Maybe it should have said illegal," he said.
Mr. O'Brien and Parks and Recreation Department deputy director Bill Davis both said they believe people have the right to openly carry guns in parks. Mr. Davis said this was their first attempt at crafting rules since the inception of the parks.
"My only goal in all of this was to create a safe and healthy environment in the park, period," Mr. Davis said. "We're not trying to infringe upon anyone's rights under the law."
Mr. Stolfer - whose group successfully lobbied this spring to have Westmoreland County change its park laws forbidding guns - recommended the county seek a legal expert before it posts the new rules and when it rewrites the language. He said when local agencies attempt to write laws restricting gun rights, they're typically "acting emotionally and irrationally."
"To proscribe someone's civil rights based on an unfounded fear is exactly what Americans and our constitution are supposed to protect against," he said.