SANDPOINT, Idaho — The city of Sandpoint is being sued by Bonner County and the county's sheriff over a Festival at Sandpoint policy banning firearms at the popular concert series.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Bonner County district court last week, cites Idaho law which prohibits cities and municipalities from restricting gun possession on public property.
The annual Festival at Sandpoint event traditionally takes place at War Memorial Field, which is owned by the city. In response to the lawsuit, city leaders maintain that they lease the lakeside property to festival organizers and don't impose a ban of their own.
Although festival organizers have traditionally not allowed guns into War Memorial Field, both city officials and Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler say the matter gained attention this year after festival organizers began increasing security measures at the event and notifying attendees of the policy.
Scott Herndon, a Sagle resident and concealed carry advocate, decided to test the ban after hearing that festival organizers wouldn't allow in firearms. Herndon and a friend had purchased a ticket for an Avett Brothers performance at War Memorial Field in August.
"I was disappointed because I actually very much care about law. And this is a public park, and we did want to see the concert," said Herndon.
Herndon says security officials denied him entry and asked him to either leave his gun in his car or receive a refund for his ticket. Herndon's experience is referenced in the county's lawsuit.
"We're just going about our lawful business and want to attend a concert just like anybody else who's not carrying a firearm," he said.
Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler eventually became aware of Herndon's situation and started to consult with the county prosecutor about what legal remedies were available.
"You have a right in Idaho to be able to protect yourself and protect your family," said Wheeler, citing an oath he took when entering office to uphold Idaho's constitution. "It's not that I'm taking sides on the festival or the county or the people. I'm standing up for the rule of law and what the constitution says."
The 18-page lawsuit accuses the city of Sandpoint of violating state law and creating a "chilling effect, with regard to the right to exercise Idaho rights."
Sandpoint mayor Shelby Rognstad said that the city's agreement which leases War Memorial Field to festival organizers has occurred for several years and makes no reference to guns.
"We don't have a policy banning firearms at city parks," he said.
"The city's position is that we lease the property to a private entity, the Festival at Sandpoint, and it's under their policy and their contract with their vendors, essentially, that they do not allow firearms on the festival grounds," added Rognstad. "The city doesn't take a position there. It's really in the hands of the lessee."
According to Rognstad, the process of leasing city property, like parks, to private entities for events is not uncommon.
The city added that some musical artists, such as ones who may perform at the Festival at Sandpoint, will sometimes have contractual language addressing firearms at venues.
"They've provided so much to our community, not just in terms of arts and culture, but the economic impact is really significant," Rognstad said of the festival. "They also support education around music in our community year after year as well."
The city will now hold a meeting later this week to hire an outside lawyer to represent them in the lawsuit.
In addition to exercising his rights, Herndon said the festival gun ban presented him with safety concerns.
"A lot of people have argued, 'Why don't you just leave your firearm behind?' For those of us who care about safety, we know that first responders and police are not necessarily always going to be the first ones on the scene when something happens," he said.