RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A judge rejected an effort on Monday to force the North Carolina State Fair to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns/">handguns, saying it would be "unwise and imprudent" to let weapons into the event.
Wake County Judge Donald Stephens declined to grant a preliminary injunction to the group challenging the longstanding ban on guns at the fair, which starts this week. Grass Roots North Carolina argued that a recent change in state law made the fair's ban illegal.
A small number of states allow concealed handguns at their fairs, including Florida and Texas.
"I do have a great respect for the constitutional right for citizens to possess and bear arms, but I do believe that it would be unwise and imprudent for firearms to be carried into the State Fair. And if there's some way that I can interpret these statutes to prohibit that, I will," said Stephens, adding that he retired from the U.S. Marines as a captain who had fired "every weapon in the arsenal."
In denying the injunction, he said he didn't think the lawsuit would prevail if it went to trial. He also said that while the laws cited by the group were "a quagmire," he believes Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has the authority to keep handguns out.
Paul Valone, the president of Grass Roots North Carolina, said he was disappointed with the judge's interpretation of the laws.
"We have seen a profound mischaracterization of the legislation that was passed," he said.
He said his group hasn't decided whether to take further legal action or take it up with legislators during the next session starting in January.
If the group were to proceed with the underlying lawsuit, the state would have 30 days to file a response — a deadline that falls after the fair ends, said Tina Hlabse, general counsel for the state Department of Agriculture.
The legal challenge argued that a 2013 North Carolina law expanding where concealed handguns are allowed makes it illegal to ban them at the fair. The group noted that the fairgrounds weren't listed among sites where concealed guns are prohibited, such as the Capitol. They also said the public fairgrounds didn't fall under a law that allows the owners of private premises to keep guns out.
Charles Whitehead, special deputy attorney general for North Carolina, countered that the fairgrounds can count as private premises because they can be fenced off for private events that charge admission, including boat shows and horse shows. Like those events, the State Fair is not strictly open to the public because attendees have to pay, he said.
He argued the plaintiffs failed to meet requirements for a preliminary injunction such as showing their lawsuit was likely to succeed or that concealed handgun holders would be harmed by the ban.
"The only harm is not being able to attend the fair," he said.