Penn Township changing signs to clarify guns allowed in its parks

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
  • Township Manager Kristina Rodgers confirmed current signage warns park-goers that firearms are prohibited, which contradicts Pennsylvania state law.
  • This is the first time in 18 years that Rodgers said she has been informed of public park rules.

Penn Township will soon be changing the signs at its seven public parks to acknowledge that visitors can, in fact, carry their firearms while they exercise, play or picnic.

Township resident Paul Wenzel attended the township public safety committee meeting Monday, Oct. 2, hours after a gunman opened fire on Las Vegas concertgoers, killing at least 59 and wounding more than 500.

It's important, the 67-year-old retiree said, in light of the massacre — now the worst in modern U.S. history — that the signs at township parks accurately reflect the law.

Wenzel first made his case to the committee in August, arguing the current signs' prohibition of firearms was illegal.

On Monday night, the committee members told him he was right, and the township would be changing all of the park signs within six months.

In August, the committee referred the issue to the township solicitor, who found in his research the 2015 case of Firearm Owners Against Crime v. Lower Merion Township.

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In that case, the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the group over the township, saying Pennsylvania law allows legally permitted gun owners to carry in public parks without fear of being fined or arrested. 

According to Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act, “no county, municipality, or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition components when carried or transported for the purposes not prohibited by the laws of this commonwealth.”

Don Frock, 41, of Union Township, Adams County, is pleased that Penn Township is clarifying its rules on firearms in parks.

Worried walker: Wenzel said he has owned firearms since he was 9 years old and is a supporter of gun owners' rights. 

Following a heart attack two years ago, Wenzel said he became a dedicated walker, frequenting Kid's Kingdom Playground on Grandview Road.

“I began to feel vulnerable,” he said about walking in the park. “Suddenly a car would be on me. … I didn’t hear it; I was concentrating. Because of my age, you notice a difference. You don’t feel quite as safe.”

So, Wenzel said, he began to carry his gun.

His wife, who occasionally joined him on walks, read Penn Township's Parks and Recreation Rules and Regulations and noticed firearms — including air, BB or pellet guns; slingshots; paint guns and bows and arrows — on the list of items prohibited in parks and recreation areas.

“I thought for a second, I was a law breaker,” said Wenzel, who has lived in Penn Township for 13 years. “I went to see the chief, and he referred me to the committee.”

Kid's Kingdom is a public park in Penn Township with a walking path

In the park: Don Frock, 41, lives in Union Township and was visiting Kid's Kingdom on Tuesday, Oct. 3. 

Frock said he is in favor of concealed carry but doesn't appreciate seeing weapons openly carried in public.

"Open carry, I think, is just asking for trouble," Frock said. He compared it to martial artists who are trained to use their skills if necessary but not flaunt them.

Babysitter Natalia Sylva also was at the park, and she said she doesn't like the idea of having guns in parks when kids are playing.

Natalia Sylva, a babysitter, said she thinks firearms should be outlawed at public parks.

Master plan: Township Manager Kristina Rodgers confirmed current signage warns parkgoers that firearms are prohibited, which contradicts Pennsylvania state law.

She said township officials are working on their recreation master plan, and Penn Township’s firearms’ ordinance will be updated during that process.

“The reason we’re not doing it right away,” she explained, “is we are working on the master plan. And instead of having to approve the plan multiple times, we’ll just do it one time.”

Once Penn Township’s firearms ordinance language is updated, the full board of commissioners will vote on the matter before the signs are changed, Rodgers said.

"No one is resistant to changing the signs," she said. 

This is the first time in her 18 years as manager that anyone has mentioned the rule, Rodgers said.