Firearms in parks bill headed for Tennessee House floor vote

Friday, March 20, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 12

NASHVILLE (AP) — A bill that would strip local governments of the power to ban guns in public parks advanced in the Legislature on Tuesday despite concerns from the governor.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville, was approved 15-5 in the House Finance Committee and is now being scheduled for a vote on the House floor. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Currently, 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. Harrison's proposal would change that.

Republican Rep. Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads was unsuccessful in adding an amendment from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam that sought to prevent firearms from being carried on property used by any board of education, school, college or university.

"We've had some concerns with this bill," Haslam said earlier Tuesday. "I've also been talking with the mayors of cities large and small and quite frankly they have differences of opinion about whether this matters to them or not."

When state lawmakers first enacted the law to allow guns in state and local parks in 2009, they allowed communities to opt out if they wished. More than 70 did.

As a result, Harrison said, the state's 500,000 permit holders are confused about which parks are off-limits.

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.

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.