Press release via Senate Republican Caucus
(NASHVILLE) — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) requested an opinion today from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery regarding the legality of banning gun shows from publicly owned fairgrounds. The Nashville Metropolitan Fair Commissioners Board recently voted to ban gun shows at the city’s publicly owned fairgrounds. Kelsey said the action potentially runs afoul of local, state, and federal laws.
“Tennessee law is clear that local governments cannot regulate the sale of arms,” said Senator Kelsey. “The Metro Fair Board action is a thinly disguised effort to impose a liberal gun control agenda and deny citizens their Second Amendment rights.”
The Tennessee preemption statute prevents localities from enacting any new laws regulating the use, purchase, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, carrying, sale, acquisition, gift, devise, licensing, registration, storage, and transportation of firearms and ammunition. The statute also preempts any existing local law, ordinance, or regulation concerning firearms, ammunition or their components.
Kelsey said the action to prohibit gun shows at the fairgrounds also raises constitutional questions. Generally, if a local government opens a venue for rent by private parties, it cannot pick and choose which parties it allows to rent the space simply because it disagrees with the viewpoint of those parties.
“The decision by the board tramples on the free speech of those who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights,” added Kelsey.
Reports seem to indicate that the Fair Board’s members overwhelmingly made their decision based on their desire to implement gun control measures.
Finally, the board action also appears to violate Metro’s own charter. The 2011 amendment to the charter for Metro Nashville provides that existing fairgrounds activities, “including, but not limited to, the Tennessee State Fair, expo center events, flea markets, and auto racing, shall be continued on the same site.” Gun shows have been operating at the fairgrounds since the 1970s.
Metro Councilman Steve Glover, who filed a resolution last week asking the fairgrounds board to overturn their decision banning gun shows, reacted positively to Sen. Kelsey’s request: “I’m pleased that the state as well as Metro is looking at this. I look forward to receiving the legal opinions. I feel certain that what’s been done will be overturned.”
Further from The Tennessean:
The fair board’s 3-0 vote, with one abstention, was not to ban gun shows, per se. Instead, the board voted to cease renting space for gun shows at fairgrounds until gun show operators agree to safety and other event rules that satisfy the board. The motion made was to fulfill existing contracts that exist with gun show operators.
These could include signage that states gun sales require background checks, additional police security in parking lots and liability coverage paid by vendors that protects the city. Bill Goodman’s Gun and Knife Shows, the main gun show operator at the fairgrounds, has opposed many of these proposals.
Kelsey isn’t the only one who has asked for a legal opinion on this issue. Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who has said she respects decision-making of local boards and supports safer facilities, asked the Metro Department of Law to review the legality of the action as well.