‘Guns in parks’ bill goes to the governor

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Legislation that would allow handgun-carry permit holders to be armed in all of the state’s parks — including greenways, playgrounds and sports fields — was sent to the governor for his consideration Thursday.

Both the Senate and House overwhelmingly approved a conference committee report on the proposal.

The measure strips a provision that would have allowed permit holders to be armed at the state Capitol complex.

It keeps a ban on guns at school events, but the ban would not apply to playgrounds and other sports fields that aren’t used by schools.

Haslam opposed the state Capitol provision, and said there was some confusion in the original legislation about what should happen in the case of parks that are adjacent to schools.

The proposal sent to the governor states that 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.”

During debate in the conference committee earlier this week, an amendment was discussed that would specify a certain distance from the school, but it wasn’t given serious consideration.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville brought the amendment, and reiterated on the Senate floor Thursday that there still needs to be clarity.

“I think we’re creating a level of confusion, a level of ambiguity that applies to schools, to parks, to gun owners and to citizens which we should hesitate to do,” Yarbro said.

However, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters after the Senate session that he’s comfortable with the language in the conference report.

“There won’t be a problem with this,” said the Blountville Republican. “I don’t think it needs to be defined anymore.”

Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said in an email to The Associated Press that changes were made during the conference committee process and that the governor will review the legislation in its final form before taking action.

A law enacted in 2009 to allow guns in Tennessee parks included an opt-out provision for city and county governments, and more than 70 communities initially decided to keep their gun bans in place.

Opponents argued the law creates confusion for permit holders about where they can legally be armed, and a bill was introduced seeking to end the exemption.

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.