A draft policy revision allowing Wilkes County animal control officers to have concealed handguns while on duty was tabled for more discussion during the March 2 county commissioners meeting.
Wilkes Animal Control Director Steve Rhoades asked that a county animal control firearms policy enacted in 1999 be amended to allow this for animal control officers with state-issued concealed carry permits.
Rhoades said one county animal control officer has a concealed carry permit and is the only one who currently wants to carry a concealed handgun while on duty.
Commission Chairman Eddie Settle said he was shocked that only one has a concealed carry permit. Settle said he wouldn’t be an animal control officer if he couldn’t carry a handgun.
Commissioner Keith Elmore asked if animal control officers now have rifles.
Rhoades said they all have 10/22 rifles behind the seats of their vehicles. “They only get those out when needed for injured animals and things like that. It takes you just a minute to get those out if needed.”
Commissioner David Gambill said animal control officers should have more training than the eight hours required for a concealed carry permit, but also said he didn’t oppose letting them carry concealed handguns.
An animal control officers with a concealed handgun isn’t the same thing as ordinary concealed carry, said Gambill, a deputy with the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office and earlier with the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office.
Gambill said he wants more time to study the matter and discuss it with County Attorney Tony Triplett and Settle. “I think there are some options out there available that might be a little better.”
He said several counties require that animal control officers take firearms classes each year and also qualify annually with the weapons, similar to law enforcement. “I would just feel better for liability purposes.”
Settle said he is 100% for letting animal control officers with concealed carry permits carry concealed handguns. He asked how many other North Carolina counties allow this and neither Triplett nor Rhoades knew.
The policy for Wilkes animal control officers now says, “The carrying of concealed weapons is not permitted.
Triplett revised it in the draft to say, “is not permitted unless permitted by law.” He said that if this is approved, an animal control officer will only need a concealed carry permit to have a concealed handgun while on duty.
“There may be other requirements you as a board would like to see in place and I think that would be perfectly fine,” said Triplett. The board could have Rhoades research what other counties do in this regard, he added.
Gambill continued, “I’m just saying you’re dealing with somebody’s animal… I’m going to call it what it is. If you pull your concealed out and have to take care of business… I think there’s a better avenue to carrying. Maybe even open” rather than concealed.
Settle said animal control officers must be certified law enforcement officers to carry handguns in the open, which he said is the case in Surry County. This requires having basic law enforcement training (BLET).
Settle suggested requiring that Wilkes animal control officers be BLET-certified and said this likely would result in them getting more pay.
Elmore asked how much liability the county would face if Wilkes animal control officers carried concealed handguns.
Triplett said it’s hard to predict without prior cases in North Carolina. “I can’t tell you there wouldn’t be liability, but the chances are pretty good if a person has a concealed carry permit and they abide by that permit that we’re protected pretty good.”
Settle said, “You don’t pull that weapon unless your life is in danger…. That’s one of the first things they teach you when you get a concealed carry. You don’t just jerk it out to show the thing.”
Settle said it’s getting increasingly dangerous. “I would certainly hate for something to happen to one of them (Wilkes animal control officer) and me knowing he might have wanted to have” a concealed handgun.
Triplett said employees in all other Wilkes County department can carry concealed handguns while on the job when Gambill asked how the matter is handled elsewhere in county government
Settle said some employees in every other county government department carry concealed handguns while on duty.
Gambill said delaying action would allow time to see what other county animal control agencies do if their animal control officers don’t have BLET. He said this would better address liability.
Settle said liability concerns are covered and Triplett concurred.
Well, I’m good to approve it if you’re comfortable,” said Gambill to Triplett. “But I would like to revisit this.”
Elmore then stated, “I would hate for animal control to go to somebody’s house for a dog and end up killing that homeowner…. That would be a big concern for me. Generally, you’re going to be on the other man’s property and then he’s protecting his property.”
He added, “If I go to a man’s house and I’m going to take his dog and he pulls a gun on me, if I don’t have a gun, I’m going to retreat. If I have a gun I might pull it out and we’ll have a gun fight. A gun will get you killed at the same time.”
Settle said he understood Elmore’s point and Elmore said the same of Settle’s stance. Settle said he also supported Gambill’s interest in safety.
Rhoades then said Wilkes animal control officers “are out there at 2 or 3 in the morning and don’t know what kind of environment they’ll be stepping into.”
Triplett said the matter could be brought before the animal control committee, of which Gambill is a member.
Gambill said he believed he, Settle and Triplett could work it out before the next board meeting on March 16 if they met. Rhoades said there was no hurry when Settle asked for his input.
Settle said the three will meet and asked Elmore to make a motion to table action that night. Elmore declined to do that and the commissioners laughed when until Gambill made the motion to table the matter until the next meeting so they can meet.
There was more uncertainty and laughter when no one seconded and Settle said the motion might die for lack of a second. Elmore then seconded it and all five commissioners, which also included commissioners Brian Minton and Casey Joe Johnson, all voted for tabling action on county animal control officers carrying concealed handguns.