Senate vote backs guns in parks bill; Harwell says House will keep 'local control' in mind

Senate vote backs guns in parks bill; Harwell says House will keep 'local control' in mind

February 14th, 2014 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

A sign prohibiting firearms by Chattanooga city ordinance is seen Thursday at Miller Park in Chattanooga. The Tennessee Senate passed a bill Thursday that would repeal a 2009 law allowing cities and county commissions to ban guns in local parks.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should guns be allowed in parks?

NASHVILLE - State House Speaker Beth Harwell says she and fellow Republican representatives will seek to strike a balance on a just-passed Senate bill stripping Tennessee cities and counties of authority to ban guns from local parks, playgrounds and ball fields.

"There are some discussions on the piece of legislation," Harwell told reporters Thursday after the GOP-dominated Senate passed the bill 26-7. "I suspect there will be some amendments on our side."

She said the House Republican Caucus is "very pro-Second Amendment - and we want to be protective over that - but also firmly believe in local rights and local control. So we're going to try to have a balancing act and see if we can get there."

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, has voiced concerns about the state imposing its will on local governments.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, was approved largely on partisan lines, with one Republican voting no and one Democrat voting yes.

The bill applies only to holders of state-issued handgun permits. It alters a 2009 law that allowed guns in state parks but left decisions about city and county parks up to local elected leaders.

Campfield's bill allows handgun-carry permit holders to go armed except in cases where there is a school function on the park property.

During Senate debate, Campfield said the 2009 law violates a Tennessee Constitution provision saying the state - and not local governments - has power to regulate the "wearing of arms."

The 2009 law resulted in a "patchwork" of confusing ordinances, Campfield argued. In Knoxville, he said, the legality of carrying a firearm can change with a single step because park "greenways" cross from Knox County into Knoxville, where firearms are banned.

Opponents argue that guns shouldn't be allowed near playgrounds and ball fields, where emotions have been known to boil over. But there were few objections from embattled Democrats in a chamber where the GOP dominates 26-7.

Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, argued that the 2009 law was a compromise allowing local legislative bodies - city councils and county commissions - to exempt local parks and greenways.

An amendment offered by Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, requiring local governments to take down gun-ban signs to avoid confusion was easily batted down.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he was voting for the bill because "not a single mayor in my district has called me to ask that I vote against it."

Speaking later with reporters, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he doubts Haslam would veto the Senate version if that's what ultimately passes the House.

"But I feel fairly confident we could override it if he did," he added.

Overriding a gubernatorial veto takes only a simple constitutional majority of yes votes - the same number it takes to pass a bill to begin with. That figure is 17 votes in the Senate and 50 votes in the House.

In 2010, Republicans easily overrode then-Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen after he vetoed their bill allowing permit holders to go armed in bars and other establishments that sell beer and liquor so long as they didn't drink.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.