Shooting Incident Highlights Dangers For Zoning Officers
DALLAS TWP. — Hours after a building code official was fatally shot Tuesday morning in Monroe County, Dallas Twp. Zoning Officer Carl Alber openly carried his handgun at a public hearing on proposed changes to the township zoning laws.
That’s nothing new, Alber said Wednesday.
He said he has worn his gun on his hip almost all the time since the murder of a zoning officer and two others in Ross Twp., Monroe County, in 2013.
“I’ve always been doing it since the first one got shot,” Alber said.
And what he’s doing is totally legal. Pennsylvania law doesn’t allow municipalities to prohibit gun possession on municipal property, gun rights and gun control advocates agree.
The murders of two Northeast Pennsylvania zoning officials in just over five years highlights how dangerous the job can be, Alber said.
He feels he needs to be prepared to defend himself. Alber, a retired labor foreman with the state Department of Corrections, carries a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 pistol. He says he knows others in his business who conceal carry.
“It’s not an easy job, let me tell you. You don’t make a lot of friends. I’ve been threatened before,” Alber said.
After Tuesday’s shooting, neighbors told police the suspect, David Green, 72, was having mold and septic issues and other problems at his Sugarbush Road residence in Henryville, along with permit problems with the township.
In the 2013 shooting, the suspect, Rockne Newell, had been enraged that Ross Twp. officials had condemned his property and then bought it at a sheriff’s sale, saying he owed thousands of dollars in fines.
No one at the packed Dallas Twp. meeting on Tuesday said anything about Alber carrying the gun.
While guns are specifically banned in federal buildings, schools, court facilities, and airports, local municipalities can’t ban them on municipal property, said David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
“Currently state law does not give municipalities public regulatory authority over carrying or restricting weapons on municipal property,” Sanko said.
Sanko said local towns have tried to pass laws prohibiting guns in certain areas, like parks, but “they get struck down by the courts.”
Even if a law was passed, “people who intend to do bad things don’t usually follow the rules,” he conceded.
“I’m sure the zoning guy who was carrying will say ‘I am carrying from a defensive posture,’” Sanko said.
The latest shooting at a township building should be a wake-up call to the state legislature to protect municipal buildings like courthouses, said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, a statewide gun violence prevention organization.
“A lot of mayors and towns feel they would like to be able to regulate guns on municipal property,” Goodman said. “Sometimes these zoning meetings get heated.”
She said city halls in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh can ban guns because they have courtrooms inside. Likewise, the state Capitol has a “ceremonial” courtroom inside to allow the gun ban, she said.
Private businesses are free to ban guns, she noted.
Goodman said she wonders if Alber would still want to open carry if security with metal detectors checked for weapons at the door.
“I’m sure people would say the presence of his gun is a deterrent to other people. But I think having a gun is more dangerous than not,” Goodman said.
Efforts to reach representatives for the National Rifle Association were not successful.
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