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VOL. 39 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 6, 2015

Tennessee mulls removing control over guns in parks

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Community parks, playgrounds and sports fields are among the few areas in Tennessee where local governments can ban people with handgun carry permits from being armed. Now gun-friendly state lawmakers are looking to change that.

When legislators first enacted a law to allow guns in parks in 2009, they allowed communities to opt out if they wished. More than 70 did. As a result, Republican Rep. Mike Harrison said, the state's nearly 500,000 permit holders are confused about which parks are off-limits.

Harrison's bill to allow permit holders to be armed in parks and playgrounds across the state was advanced by voice vote in the House Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday.

"We've had seven years of people with gun carry permits all across the state — in state parks, local parks, Little League games — and there's not been any problems," Harrison said. "So this would just make it consistent across the state."

Kathleen Chandler Wright, a member of the Tennessee chapter of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the measure raises serious concerns for parents.

"It's going to be allowing people to carry guns into playgrounds and places where we take our children," she said. "It doesn't seem right to have them come in and override the community's decision on whether to allow the guns."

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.

Haslam told reporters earlier this month that he has discussed the measure with the mayors of the state's four biggest cities, who he said made the argument that "we bought and paid for these parks and we should be able to decide what happens in them."

But the governor said he would be willing to consider a compromise on the measure if one could be worked out.

The guns-in-parks bill is one of dozens of firearms bills introduced this year that include measures to do away with permit requirements, prohibit employers from disciplining workers who store guns in cars parked at work, and make the semiautomatic .50-caliber Barrett rifle the state's official firearm.

Supporters of loosening handgun carry laws in Tennessee have long argued that permit holders' background checks and training ensure that they are responsible enough to be armed in most public situations.

Chandler said she is dismayed by the annual barrage of legislation seeking to make firearms more prevalent in the state.

"We don't need any of these extreme gun bills," she said. "They would turn our city and our state into the Wild West."

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