A Washington county sheriff publicly complained he was forced to disarm before entering a Spokane, Wash., arena for a Feb. 11 law enforcement charity hockey match while arena management says he did so voluntarily.  

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Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich

The incident again raises the issue of gun restrictions in public spaces – and of gun advocates’ rights to carry versus venue rights to maintain a safe, secure environment.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich arrived at Spokane Arena Feb. 11 and was stopped by venue staff when his sidearm set off a metal detector.

Knezovich returned his weapon to his car and entered the arena, which was hosting a charity hockey match between local law enforcement agencies.

Later, the sheriff took to Twitter. “Ran into a new level of insanity at the Spokane Arena tonight they disarmed an on duty law enforcement officer tonight. Me. Amazing,” Knezovich tweeted Feb. 11.

Spokane Arena GM Matt Gibson said there was a bit more to the story. While some local media accounts report Knezovich arrived at the arena in a blazer with his badge on the lapel, Gibson said he appeared in a hockey jersey and jeans rather than in uniform.

“We recently installed metal detectors at the doors, so maybe the sheriff hasn’t been here since then,” Gibson told Pollstar. “We have an usher at the door who had him walk through the metal detector. He’s armed and set it off.”

Gibson explained that the usher called his supervisor who, in turn, asked the event manager to come down to explain the policy to Knezovich to make sure everybody “was cool with what was going on. That’s it,” Gibson said. As it happens, Knezovich was apparently a bit tardy in arriving for an on-ice ceremony, and said he didn’t have time to wait for the event manager.

“He elected to take his weapon offsite,” Gibson said. “We never asked him to relinquish his weapon, we never asked him to return it to his car. … The next thing I know, He’s tweeting and going on media.”

After several messages were left for Knezovich the next day, a meeting was arranged and the sheriff later tweeted out that Spokane Arena will allow “all LEO’s including retired to carry per WA Constitution and laws they were very gracious and I fully accept apology.”

Gibson explained, however, that Washington law states, and courts have upheld, that if a publicly owned building is rented out, restrictions may be enacted.

“What he’s not citing is case law that adapts that law to the level of public assembly facilities,” Gibson said. “So there have been cases in Washington State in which venues have been taken on in terms of their ability to put forth policy to prohibit weapons from the building.

“And what the Washington State courts have ruled, in all three of the cases that have happened here in the last 15-20 years, is that when a public facility acts in a capacity where they are fulfilling private enterprise, i.e., renting the building, they then can – because they are acting in that private capacity for the benefit of the municipality for which they serve, city or county – they are then allowed [to enact gun restrictions].

“Basically, the eyes of the courts look at public assembly buildings and they rent their buildings out as private entities. Because of that, we get to do what we need to do in order to keep a safe environment,” Gibson said.

He added that he and his staff have been working with the sheriff since October to adopt a policy that would accommodate law enforcement when the incident with the sheriff – who is running for reelection – occurred.