By Zach Hagadone
The drama over so-called “gun free zones” has spread from Sandpoint — where for months county and city officials have sparred in court over The Festival at Sandpoint’s no-weapons policy on public property — to a performance venue in Bonners Ferry.
The Pearl Theater, a nonprofit operating on private property, recently drew the ire of a number of area residents outraged that its board of directors had decided to institute a prohibition on firearms at its facility and events.
In hundreds of Facebook comments on a Bonners Ferry community forum, opponents of the theater’s policy poured out their anger, with some suggesting The Pearl had no legal right to prohibit firearms from its venue, and others vowing to attend events there armed with concealed firearms regardless.
In response, theater board members released a statement Feb. 19 explaining why the policy — which was approved six weeks ago — had been put in place.
According to the statement, the action was taken at the advice of the theater’s insurance carrier, and after consulting with local law enforcement and legal counsel, in order to “ensure the safety of performances and guests, and to reduce liability.”
As with The Festival at Sandpoint, Pearl Theater directors noted that many artists request a weapons-free environment in which to perform. What’s more, The Pearl hosts a number of events in conjunction with Boundary County School District 101, “which has a zero-tolerance weapons policy at all its facilities, specifically for student safety.”
The Reader attempted to reach out to one of the most vocal opponents of The Pearl’s weapons policy via an intermediary, but received no response.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement has stood by the theater’s policy.
“The Pearl Theater is a private entity and it is the board’s right to make that decision,” Bonners Ferry Police Chief Brian Zimmerman said in the statement from the board. “I support their choice. They serve alcohol, and in my experience, alcohol and weapons are never a good mix.”
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