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Amusement Law: There’s more than bad guys lurking around the corner at a Wild West Show


From Australia and the Far East to Europe and the U.K., entire parks are devoted to the West. There is something about the Wild West that catches everyone’s imagination. The Wild West skits vary from park to park. One Park may offer gunfights, another park has bank robberies, this park has saloon fights while a different one has train robberies. It’s a great way to have the guest interact in the entertainment experience, or is it?

Certainly Michael Stabile, owner of Wild West City, near Cranberry Lake, NJ thought so, since the Wild West was the theme for his park. The park entertained people for 50 years with the bad guys and good guys who were shot in the park’s skits jumping up at the end of the skit. On July 7, 2006, Scott Harris, one of the park’s actors, was not so lucky. CAT scans confirmed that Mr. Harris was hit during the park’s Sundance skit with a live bullet. The shooter was a 17-year-old juvenile who accidently loaded a .22 caliber revolver that the park owned with real bullets instead of blanks. Shortly after the incident, a Sussex County prosecutor wondered why live ammunition would be there. A Sussex County grand jury was convened and in June 2008 it handed out a 25 count criminal indictment. It answered the Sussex County prosecutor’s question when it charged Adalberto Morales of bringing two boxes of ammunition into the changing area, one with the blanks and one with live rounds he had fired at a shooting gallery that the juvenile mistakenly loaded in the revolver.

Now Mr. Stabile, the two corporations owning the park, Cheyenne Corporation and Western World, Inc., and the park’s General Manager, Nathan McPeak are facing various charges of firearms violations, aggravated assault, and conspiracy. The main contention in this case is that the park is being charged with violating New Jersey state firearms law (Title 2C, Chapter 39 together with Chapter 58) that requires even owners and users of antique firearms to obtain gun permits. This requirement seems to cover any type of historical re-enactors from Wild West lawmen through Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers. The park’s contention is that the park and its employees do not need permits to carry handguns on the property. The prosecutor is countering that an exemption for carrying handguns on private property does not extend to employees. 

Looking at the New Jersey definition of firearm found at N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1, a “Firearm” as defined as "any handgun, rifle, … or any gun, device or instrument in the nature of a weapon from which may be fired or ejected any solid projectable ball, slug, pellet, missile or bullet, or any gas, vapor or other noxious thing, by means of a cartridge or shell or by the action of an explosive or the igniting of flammable or explosive substances. It shall also include, without limitation, any firearm which is in the nature of an air gun, spring gun or pistol or other weapon of a similar nature in which the propelling force is a spring, elastic band, carbon dioxide, compressed or other gas or vapor, air or compressed air, or is ignited by compressed air, and ejecting a bullet or missile smaller than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, with sufficient force to injure a person." This definition of a firearm could fit any number of midway games or entertainment props including a slingshot game, midway shooting gallery, a midway game using a pellet gun (shooting out a star comes to mind) or an antique replica that shoots blanks.

Why does this incident matter to the amusement industry?  Because it allows you an opportunity to look at your own attraction and find out where you may have situations that may need to be addressed.  Due to the expansive definitions that states may use to define a firearm and their individual permit requirement, you may have areas in your attraction that needs to be addressed. Does your attraction have a shooting gallery that propels objects to a target?  Do you have some type of a old West or Wild West show, robbery or hold-up?  What type of weapons do you use?  What is your plan, process and procedure on loading these weapons?  What type of checks and balances do you employ?  Have you checked whether or not these instruments, props or game pieces need a permit to be operated? Don’t get caught in your own shoot-out at the O.K. Corral with your local prosecutor and enforcement officers.

See also:

Amusement Law: Legal Learning at WWA and IAAPA

Halloween Risk Management for Amusement Parks: Curbing the Scary Specter of Legal Liability

Amusement Law : How IALDA Serves the Amusement Park Industry, Legally Speaking

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