Tennessee legislature strips local governments of power to ban guns in parks

Roy Tyson, left, and Connor Peach and walk on a slackline at Coolidge Park. The teens are low-lining on 1-inch webbing 2 feet to 6 feet off the ground. High-lining, at 40 or so feet above the ground, requires a safety harness.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - People with handgun carry permits would be able to carry their weapons on the grounds of the state Capitol under a proposal that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Wednesday.

The amended legislation was approved 26-7. It would also strip city and county governments of the power to ban guns in parks, playgrounds and sports fields, which was the main intent of the bill.

"This is about the right to self-defense, the right to protect yourself where you are," said Sen. John Stevens, a Huntingdon Republican and the bill's sponsor.

With the amendment, licensed gun holders could also carry firearms in the Capitol complex, which would include Legislative Plaza and War Memorial Plaza across from the Capitol.

The change was not part of the version the House passed 65-21 on Monday, so the legislation now goes back to the lower chamber.

"The ball is now in the House's court to figure out what they're going to do," said Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, who proposed the amendment.

Republican Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville, the sponsor of the House version of the bill, was surprised to hear about the change. He said he would have to research whether the Capitol provision fits within the scope of the original bill.

Yarbro said he brought the amendment to try to "eliminate ... the hypocrisy."

"If we're going to mandate decisions for local government, we should at least apply the same standards to ourselves," he said.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he supports allowing permit holders to be armed in the Capitol complex as long as they still have to log their IDs upon entry.

"They've been through the background check; they've been fingerprinted; they've paid the fee," he said. "And if they commit a crime, they're on record. That's a security enhancement."

Currently, community parks, playgrounds and sports fields are among the few areas in Tennesseewhere local governments can ban people with handgun carry permits from being armed.

When state lawmakers first enacted the law to allow guns in state and local parks in 2009, they let communities opt out if they wished. More than 70 did.

Sponsors of the legislation say the state's 500,000 permit holders are confused about which parks are off limits.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam opposed similar legislation in the past, and as Knoxville mayor supported a 2009 city council vote that kept in place a ban on handguns in some of the city's parks. He said he has concerns about the legislation but hasn't said whether he would sign it into law.