NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A top Republican supporter of a bill to strip local governments of the power to bar handgun carry permit holders from being armed in parks, playgrounds and ball fields said Thursday that even if a school uses a park, playground or ball field for just one event per year, that would enable the school to ban guns there.
In a contentious news conference at the legislative office, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin argued that the bill does not change current law barring all guns from being carried in facilities owned, maintained or used by a school.
Casada said schools that use a park running track, playground or ball field could post a sign banning guns.
"This is a school operated park," Casada explained. "Owned, operated or used are the three words."
Meanwhile, House leaders said they plan to reject a Senate amendment to allow guns at the Capitol complex.
The provision was inserted into the guns-in-parks proposal on the Senate floor Wednesday, and then overwhelmingly approved 26-7.
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.
"It was poorly drafted and it jeopardizes the entire bill," House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters Thursday.
The Nashville Republican acknowledged the amendment increases the chance of a veto by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who had expressed concerns about the legislation before the amendment.
"I can't speak for the governor ... but I would suspect that it would," she said.
Because of the veto possibility, Democrats who oppose the legislation have not decided whether they want to join in stripping the amendment.
House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley later said at a news conference that his caucus is discussing the issue.
Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville was among the Democrats who talked to reporters. He said he's opposed to having guns in parks, but is even more against them being brought into the Capitol complex where there are sometimes heated debates.
"I'm opposed to having guns in the Legislature where tempers can get hot," Stewart said. "I think it's absolutely not an insignificant risk that in the heated exchanges that go on between people that come up to advocate for opposite sides of bills that ... somebody could pull out a weapon."
Earlier Thursday, the news conference with Republican leaders actually did grow testy when House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga asserted that the media was advocating for the guns-in-parks bill.
"I don't think you're presenting, I think you're advocating," he said. "Is this the only thing that's important to you guys?
Capitol Hill Press Corps Chairwoman Andrea Zelinski said that wasn't the case.
"Twelve weeks into the legislative session, this was the first time House Republican leaders held a news conference to speak at length about bills they want passed into law," she said. "Our job is to ask questions of public officials."