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Thread: Can a town or municipality supercede state law for an event?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
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    South Bend, Indiana
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    Can a town or municipality supercede state law for an event?


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    This post arrises from a recent experience that a friend and I had at a local festival. I will preface this post by saying that this festival, the blueberry festival, is held annually in Plymouth, Indiana. While this festival draws a regional crowd, Plymouth is at its heart, a farming community. This is not NYC. Lots of good ol' boys and a good conservative base. I would assume that most people in our community carry a knife primarily as a tool with defense being a bonus.

    My wife and I were just outside the festival when I received a somewhat panicked call from a friend that we were meeting there. He proceeded to inform me that they were stopping people entering the festival and checking for knives and other weapons. On this day he happened to be carrying a flashlight and a knife.(an orange benchmade no less) the pocket clip on the flashlight drew the attention of an officer and the situation escalated from there. My friend indicated that he was caught completely off guard and took a defensive posture, as this is not something we generally deal with here. After some verbal exchange, the now group of officers informed my friend that he must surrender his knife and can pick it up when he is leaving the festival. After agreeing, he walked toward the tent he was directed to and then slipped his knife in his pocket and walked away.(This was based on the advice of another officer who obviously did not support the situation)

    I played the call off, so i did not alert my wife and we continued into the festival. I chose to keep my knives in my pockets and proceeded without incident.

    So my question is this:
    Can a local ordinance supercede state law for a specific time? This festival is large and covers a great deal of land both publicly and privately held. This is a place where if I chose to I could normally carry a sheathed machete on my belt and it probably wouldn't draw any stares let alone be in violation of the law.

    Any insight would be great.

    Jason Szabo

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    East TN
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shing1287 View Post
    ...
    Can a local ordinance supercede state law for a specific time? ...
    Depends on how the pertinent state statute(s) is/are written, as to whether local law is preempted or not.

    For example, in TN, firearms/ammo laws preempt any city/county ordinances, unless those were enacted before 1986, in which the local ordinances were grandfathered in and local LEAs may continue to enforce them.

    However, there is no state preemption for knife laws in TN, so local ones may legally be more restrictive than state ones, and further, new ones can be enacted at any time.

    That's how Chicago can enact gun laws that are more strict than the state laws of Illinois, because the state laws do not specifically bar Cook County or the City of Chicago from doing so.

    - OS
    Last edited by OhShoot; 09-15-2011 at 01:22 AM.

  3. #3
    Jason, the police can put inplace special conditions for cause at any time any where, but this sounds more like a plan set in place by the festival promoter. In your area I can only assume it was an over reaction to ban knives or weapons in general. This may have happened for many reasons including insurance requirements for the event, and the uniform officers may have been being paid to be there by the promoter and not the city they work for normally ( called paid detail by most departments). I am a fromer NYC LEO and for many years now run shopping malls in NYC, NJ and PA, and I can tell you that many special conditions (including conditions of entry) are made up for different events. Insurance companies can demand certain compliance for events in order for the insurance to be valid, and they may have deemed knives around the 10 th annivery of 9/11 to have been a risk ......

    As a rule local laws can always be stricter than state laws and it is possible the city council passed a temporary law ( but it is highly unlikely). A few states have included that no local laws can restrict knife laws beyond state law, but this is only a few locations....

  4. #4
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    This is a good question because it involves a core concept in American criminal law. Now please don't take this as patronizing, as I am targeting this just as much to the young'uns who I know read this forum or find it through Google search.

    As a general rule of thumb, a criminal law forbids a wrongful action, rather than declares a rightful action as lawful. Thus, in a manner of speaking, many actions are legal for no other reason that there is simply no criminal law prohibiting them. While many criminal laws may seem as though they specify certain actions as lawful, these are just exceptions specific to aforementioned prohibitions.

    With that model in mind, the law works from the top down: Federal>State>County>City
    When for example a state forbids something, it is forbidden throughout the entire state regardless of which county or city one is in at the time. However, the absence of a criminal law at a certain level leaves the door open for those entities below it to still restrict it if they choose. For example, Indiana has almost no knife laws except for switchblades and ninja stars. This means counties and cities within IN are free to make make laws that do restrict knives further, but they cannot "trump" state law by making legal something forbidden by the state (e.g. a city cannot pass a law making switchblades legal).

    The exception to this rule is preemption, which is a law at higher levels that forbids the creation of restrictions at the lower levels within. They are rare for knives, but do exist, such as in Arizona.

    The other exception/special circumstance is private property. Any private property owner/company can choose to prohibit certain items within, provided it does not violate a government law (for example civil rights law, disabilities act, obstruction of law enforcement). The difference is that these prohibitions themselves are not law, but simply private policy. They cannot result in arrest and prosecution in and of themselves, but a person violating them can be asked to leave. If they don't, they are considered trespassing, which is a criminal violation and can result in arrest.

  5. #5
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    Timberlea, Nova Scotia, Canada
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    An event promoter falls under that special circumstance and can impose almost any restriction they want (following city bylaws), keeping alcohol restricted to one spot, no outside foods or cameras, etc. That being said, they don't always have the right to search you and confiscate your items, that would have to fall under the local law enforcement.

  6. #6
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    california
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    each succeeding entity (state-county-city) may enact laws more strict than the larger entity, but not more lenient.

    on private property, the land owner (or occupier) may enact any restrictions they see fit, but may not allow activity prohibited at any level.

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