‘Guns in local parks’ bill dies in House sub

Failure of a bill in a House subcommittee means that Tennessee city and county governments can continue to prohibit the carrying of guns in their local parks, even by those holding handgun carry permits, legislators and an attorney said Tuesday.

A bill to specifically override local ordinances banning weapons in local parks was declared “off notice” – meaning it won’t be considered – in the House Finance Subcommittee. The measure (SB1496) had passed the Senate, 26-7, early in the session under sponsorship of Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

But the bill had been put “behind the budget” in the House subcommittee, where it died along with other measures having a “fiscal note” saying it would cost taxpayer money that is not authorized in the state budget as approved last week. The fiscal note said it would cost $38,000 for changing signs in parks that now prohibit guns, though a Senate amendment — never adopted on the House side — said the signs need not be changed.

The House and Senate, meanwhile, have passed a separate bill (SB1612) that declares the state has exclusive rights to regulate firearms and local governments have no authority – except in deciding the location of shooting ranges and prohibiting discharge of guns within city limits.

There has been some speculation that SB1612 would also mean an end to local ordinances prohibiting guns in city and county parks, but legislators and John Harris, an attorney and president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said Tuesday that is not the case.

In banning local regulation of firearms generally, SB1612’s wording includes the phrase “except otherwise provided by law,” Harris noted. A statute specifically granting local governments the right to prohibit guns in their parks was approved in 2010 and was not repealed by SB1612. Thus, it still stands.

Campfield agreed with the interpretation and expressed disappointment that the bill had died in the House subcommitte without the sponsor, Republican Rep. Tilman Goins of Morristown, even having “a chance to be heard.”

The bill has been opposed by mayors of Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis — as well as Gov. Bill Haslam. All said they thought the matter should be left to local decisions. Campfield and Goins said, on the other hand, there should be uniformity in the law.

Also given final approval Tuesday was a bill (SB1774) that allows anyone who can legally own a gun to keep it in his or her car, loaded, without a handgun permit. Current law allows transportation of firearms in vehicles but requires that the gun and ammunition be kept separately.