published Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Local bans on guns in parks face challenge in Legislature

Mayor Karl Dean on guns-in-parks bill:

"While I support the Second Amendment right to own firearms, there are legitimate public safety concerns as to where and when people can possess guns. The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police has recognized this as well, taking the position that this type of decision should be made at the local level. As Mayor of a large city, public safety has to be of my utmost concern. Put simply, I believe guns in Nashville parks is a bad idea."

— Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jan. 21, 2014

NASHVILLE — Many Tennessee cities could be forced to remove bans on handguns in their parks if a push underway in the Tennessee Legislature succeeds.

Gun rights advocates and several lawmakers are throwing their weight behind legislation that would overturn local restrictions on handguns in public parks, five years after cities and counties were told they could opt out of a state law that opened parks to handgun owners.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield, who has filed a bill to repeal the bans, says the 2009 law has created uncertainty among gun owners as to where they can carry. But Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has asked lawmakers to vote down the proposal, arguing that it runs against efforts to protect the public and the ideal of local control.

"Put simply, I believe guns in Nashville parks is a bad idea," Dean said in a letter sent Tuesday to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The Metro Council, the locally elected legislative body, made the right decision to opt out of the state law allowing guns in parks."

The General Assembly passed a law five years ago that said people with handgun carry permits could take their weapons into any state or local park. But the law included a provision that let local governments keep their gun bans if approved by their city or county council.

Many Middle Tennessee cities, including Nashville, Brentwood and Murfreesboro, have done so.

Senate Bill 1496 would strip away local exemptions. Campfield, R-Knoxville, said Wednesday that he believes the bans are confusing, unconstitutional and unsafe.

"We have the right to legislate gun laws," he said. "The question arises whether we have the right to delegate that authority."

So far, only Campfield has signed on to the bill. A companion measure, House Bill 1407, has drawn 20 co-sponsors, including state Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, and William Lamberth, R-Cottontown.

The Tennessee Firearms Association has not endorsed the measure, but the organization generally supports repealing local gun bans.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could take the measure up as soon as next week. Debate in the House has not yet been scheduled.

Reach Chas Sisk at 615-259-8283 and on Twitter @chassisk.

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