Special committee strips Capitol complex from gun bill

Friday, April 10, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 15

NASHVILLE (AP) - A special legislative committee voted Tuesday not to allow Tennessee handgun-carry permit holders to be armed at the state Capitol complex.

The Capitol provision was part a proposal that seeks to allow permit holders to be armed in all of the state's parks - including greenways, playgrounds and sports fields.

The conference committee was called after the House and Senate couldn't agree on the Capitol amendment.

The six-member committee - comprising four Republicans and two Democrats from the Senate and House - recommended removing the amendment and keeping the main provision, which would strip local governments of the power to ban all firearms in parks.

Republican Sen. John Stevens of Huntingdon, a committee member and sponsor of the legislation, said the main intent of the proposal is to give permit holders "the fundamental right to protect yourself."

"If the government is not going to protect you, you ne ed to be able to protect yourself where you are," Stevens told reporters after the meeting.

The conference report was accepted on a 4-2 vote and could be voted on by the full Senate and House later this week.

Committee members attempted to clear up confusion over what should happen in the case of parks that are used by schools.

Stevens said if a school - or public college or university - is using a park then a permit holder "cannot be within the immediate vicinity of the school activity."

"And if they are and they're notified that this activity is a school activity, they've got to vacate," he said.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville discussed an amendment that would specify a certain distance from the school, but it wasn't given serious consideration.

Stevens said such an amendment would essentially create a "gun-free zone and that's not what we want to do."

Beth Roth, a Nashville mother of two and member of a gun-violence preve ntion organization, attended the meeting and said afterward she still has questions about the part of the bill that deals with parks that are used by schools.

"Parks are adjacent to the schools where my children attend, and I think there's still a lot of ambiguity about how this law is going to be applied," Roth said.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he would support removing the Capitol provision from the bill, but also said the part about how close a permit holder could get to a school is confusing.

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.