Wilkes County animal control officers can now carry concealed handguns while on duty if they have a concealed carry permit.

The Wilkes County commissioners unanimously approved a revised firearms policy for animal control officers allowing this during their March 16 meeting.

The policy had said animal control officers can’t carry concealed weapons while on duty since it was adopted in 1999. County Attorney Tony Triplett revised this to say it’s not allowed unless permitted by law, and it is allowed in North Carolina with a concealed carry permit.

New Wilkes Animal Control Director Steve Rhoades requested the change and appeared before the commissioners with this request at their March 2 meeting.

Rhoades said then that one Wilkes animal control officer has a concealed carry permit and was the only one who currently wanted to carry a concealed handgun while on duty.

Commissioner David Gambill made the motion to approve the revised policy.

Gambill said at the March 2 meeting that animal control officers should have more than the eight hours of training required for a concealed carry permit, but also said he wasn’t opposed to them carrying concealed handguns while on duty.

Also at the March 2 meeting, Gambill said he wanted more time to study the matter and discuss it with Triplett and Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners.

Gambill said at the March 16 meeting that after having a chance “to dig into the policy a little better” and speak with Settle and Triplett about it, he was comfortable with the revised policy. Gambill is an Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

In the March 2 meeting, Commissioner Keith Elmore asked how letting animal control officers carry concealed handguns would impact county government’s liability.

Elmore said at the March 16 meeting that he debated whether to say anything about the matter “because you can be labeled a certain way, but that’s never stopped me from talking over the past 16 years.”

Elmore said he is 100% for Second Amendment rights and 100% for concealed carry.

He said he appreciated comments of Kevin Reece, a Ronda commissioner, in support of the policy revision during the public comments portion of the meeting and added that he agreed with Reece to a certain point.

Reece said that night that a neighbor’s dog attacked a dog belonging to the resident of one of his rental properties about two years ago. He said the neighbor then came over and shot and killed the dog that was attacked.

Reece said Wilkes animal control arrived and dealt with it, but it could have turned out worse. The Wilkes Sheriff’s Office also came.

Reece said his point is that it only takes seconds for someone to get attacked by a vicious dog or shot. He also said he believes Wilkes animal control officers treat people with respect.

Elmore said that if the animal control officer in the situation Reece described had had a gun, someone could have died. Instead, he said, the animal control officer retreated, got deputies involved and nobody died.

“That’s the thing that bothers me some. Animal control comes onto a person’s private property with a concealed weapon. If I’m agitated and I come at you, if you don’t have that gun, you’re going to retreat, hopefully.”

Elmore turned to Triplett and asked if the county’s insurance provider is okay with the policy change. Triplett said there is no exclusion in place that would affect coverage on this particular policy change.

Triplett added, “I do not see a material increase in our liability” with adoption of the policy allowing animal control officers to have concealed carry.

“There is always liability when a county employee does anything, whether they have a gun on them or not. We can’t escape liability. The question is whether this would materially increase our liability. In my opinion it would not and our insurance agent shares that opinion.”

Elmore asked Rhoades if he checked on what other counties do.

Rhoades said he did and said he learned that Ashe County animal control officers carry shotguns and .223-caliber rifles, while Surry County animal control officers work under the sheriff’s office so have open carry handguns.

He said Caldwell County animal control officers don’t have firearms. Rhoades said they had the same type of .22-caliber rifles that Wilkes animal control officers have in their vehicles now until a Caldwell animal control officer “shot some things he shouldn’t have.”

Alexander County animal control officers don’t have firearms and Rowan County animal control officers have the same thing Wilkes officers now have.

Elmore asked if a Wilkes animal control officer with concealed carry would be issued the weapon and ammunition he carries or if he would own what he carries and carry what he wants. Rhoades said he would own it and carry what he wants.

Elmore said a homeowner he spoke to was concerned that someone with concealed carry could come onto his property. “What rights does a private homeowner have in a situation like this,” he asked.

Triplett said any private citizen has the right to tell someone they can’t come on their property for any reason or for the reason that the person is carrying a concealed weapon. He said a private citizen can post their property in a way that says a concealed carry handgun isn’t allowed on the property and if you have one you’re trespassing.

Elmore again said he is pro Second Amendment and pro handgun but added that these questions needed to be asked.

Gambill said he agreed with Elmore and said he was of a like mind when the issued was discussed at the last meeting.

Gambill asked if it was true that with the revised policy, the county isn’t taking a position for or against an animal control officer with a concealed carry permit carrying a concealed handgun while on duty.

Triplett said that’s correct. “We’re simply saying we’re not going to prohibit it any longer. We’re not taking a position for or against. We’re simply saying that the law permits and an employee of the animal control department can do what the law permits.”

Gambill said animal control officers with concealed carry permits are also subject to laws that limit where concealed weapons aren’t allowed, such as courthouses and other aspects of relevant law. Triplett concurred.

“As long as that is noted for the record,” said Gambill.

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