Friday, June 12, 2009

Local parks taken out of guns bill to avert veto

By Chas Sisk • THE TENNESSEAN • June 12, 2009 The backers of a measure that would let people carry handguns into Tennessee parks say they are dropping the most controversial part of their bill to avoid another veto by the governor, but the issue may not be settled quite yet. State Rep. Frank Niceley and state Sen. Mae Beavers said Thursday that they will retreat from their push to allow handguns in more local parks — places like Shelby Bottoms, Centennial Park and Beaman Park — that are controlled by Tennessee cities and counties. The move comes as the Metro Council has been gearing up for a debate over whether to allow guns in Nashville parks. Similar debates are expected elsewhere in Middle Tennessee if the bill becomes law. At issue is the second plank in gun rights supporters' platform to reform Tennessee firearms laws during this year's legislative session. As in the debate over whether to open bars and restaurants to handguns, firearms groups argue that people would be safer if handgun permit holders were allowed to carry their weapons into parks and onto walking trails and other green spaces statewide. "I think your biggest risk is going to be when you're in a parking lot and when people go out and jog and walk for exercise," said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. Focus on state parks But many cities and counties, including Metro, have long banned firearms from parks. Niceley and Beavers' legislation would have opened those local parks to handguns, provided local councils didn't pass another bill banning guns from specific parks. Now, the bill's supporters say they're going to change the law so that it's applicable mostly for state parks. Under the new version of the bill, carry permit holders would be allowed to take their guns in all but two parks owned by the state. One of the exceptions would be Bicentennial Mall. In exchange, Gov. Phil Bredesen has agreed to sign the bill and will not veto other gun bills pending in the legislature, they say. Bredesen denied he had agreed to such a compromise. The deal would put off — for now — a debate that's perhaps even more controversial than whether to allow guns in restaurants that serve alcohol, an issue that has dominated the legislature this spring. A call for Metro ban In Nashville, Metro council members Jerry Maynard and Megan Barry have filed a new ordinance calling for another ban on handguns in all Metro parks. "That's a decision we should make," Maynard said. "I don't trust that the legislature will make the right decision when it comes to guns in parks." Visitors to Bicentennial Mall on Thursday had varied reactions to the idea. "As long as you're using it for defense purposes, it's OK with me," said Phurba Lama, 34, a Franklin resident who was flying a kite with his parents and two children. Others thought that guns should not be allowed in any parks. "With the way things are right now, it's easy for people to get hurt," Frederick Furlow, 33, an East Nashville resident, said as he chatted on a park bench with a friend. "Money's a problem. Jobs are problems. Having guns is just going to make the problems even worse."

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