Democrat calls Bill Haslam's signing of guns-in-parks bill 'absolute failure of leadership'

Craig Fitzhugh
photo Craig Fitzhugh
photo Republican Gov. Bill Haslam speaks about the conclusion of the legislative session at a news conference at the state Capitol in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, April 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam is drawing fire from Democratic lawmakers for signing into law a bill today that strips local governments of their ability to bar handgun-carry permit holders from going armed in city and county parks, playgrounds and ball fields.

"All along the governor says one thing and then turns around and does another," charged Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, in an interview. "And that's just politics at its worst in my view. That's what politicians do. And this on the face of it appears to be kind of cave in to the special interest groups, the NRA."

The decision by Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, to sign the bill despite having voiced concerns about it for years, spurred House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, R-Ripley, to tweet, "Not vetoing #GunsInParks is an absolute failure of leadership."

In a letter to Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, Haslam called the final bill a "vast improvement" over how it started.

But he acknowledged he remains "concerned that an unintended consequence may be operational challenges for local leaders in managing their parks in a safe, effective and consistent manner, due to events and situations that could not have been anticipated in drafting this law."

That needs monitoring, said Haslam, calling it "critical going forward that we work together with the local leaders to assess the impact of this law and respond to the questions and concerns of those leaders as they work to implement it successfully."

At one point the bill pushed by Republican lawmakers included an amendment that would have allowed permit holders to bring their firearms into the state Capitol complex.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said his amendment was an effort to challenge what he thought was Republican colleagues' hypocrisy. Republicans later claimed it would be too expensive to implement because new security staff would be needed to check visitors' gun permits.

They stripped the amendment in a conference committee.