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NASHVILLE - About 70 cities have opted out of a new law permitting handguns in parks.

However, gun-rights groups say they will press lawmakers to take the matter out of local governments' hands unless they reconsider.

From the large cities of Nashville and Memphis, each with more than a half-million people, to rural communities such as Watertown - population 1,400 - local city and county councils have voted to close their parks to handguns.

Supporters of the bans say they will protect park users, especially children.

Opponents, however, say the bans will create a patchwork of rules and that they fly in the face of the law's intention, which was to make it possible for people who are licensed to carry a handgun to take their weapons into more public areas.

"This has been way overblown," the law's sponsor, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, told The Tennessean newspaper. "I think if you just mention guns to some people, they think it's a bad thing."

Most of the state's urban centers have voted to ban guns. And bans have been reinstated in many suburban and rural communities, to the disappointment of gun-rights groups.

A handful of cities have rejected bans, and many more have not held votes at all. In those places, guns will be allowed in local parks.

Gun-rights supporters say they have been pushing against an ingrained prejudice against allowing guns in parks.

The ban is "the safe vote," said Wallace Redd, a Clarksville city councilman and the city's mayor pro tempore. "They just want to keep the status quo."

Gun-rights groups had hoped they could persuade most governments in the suburbs and rural communities to reject park bans. They have frequently summoned their members into action, asking them to press their local council members to vote down new gun bans.

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