Monday, June 29, 2009

Tennessee cities rush to ban guns in local parks

State law provokes community action By Chas Sisk • THE TENNESSEAN • June 29, 2009 Local governments and advocates for firearms owners are gearing up for a summer face-off over how far to take a new state law that lets people with carry permits bring handguns into parks. City councils across Tennessee, including Nashville and Hendersonville, are moving to reaffirm their bans on handguns in parks following passage of a new state law. But people opposed to handgun restrictions are mobilizing to block their efforts. "I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to close all of them," John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said of Metro's plans to keep parks closed to handguns. "I don't think it's necessarily reasonable to close any of them." A state law signed earlier this month by Gov. Phil Bredesen has touched off the debate. The law is meant to let handgun permit holders carry their weapons into every park in the state, wiping out local policies governing handguns. But in a compromise to smooth the law's passage, legislators included a provision that gives local governments the power to ban guns in some or all of their parks by passing a new ordinance. Now, many local governments in Tennessee are moving to do just that before the state law goes into effect Sept. 1. "I'm not against people owning guns," said Ernest Brooks II, a Jackson city councilman who is sponsoring a ban ordinance, "but I do believe there are some circumstances where they are inappropriate." The Metro Council will debate next month an ordinance that would ban guns in all parks, from the well-developed Centennial Park on West End Avenue to the wild Warner Parks in Belle Meade. Supporters say a ban on handguns will make parks safer and friendlier for families. "I can't tell you how many of these are part of neighborhoods where children play," said Megan Barry, one of the ordinance's sponsors on the Metro Council. "I don't think it (a citywide ban) is out of bounds." Debate is not expected to start until July 21. But already, the issue is generating e-mails, phone calls and letters to some on the Metro Council, said Robert Duvall, a councilman who represents Antioch and Hermitage. Duvall opposes a ban on handguns in parks. "These are not people that are wild, loose, shoot first and ask questions later," he said. "These people should be able to carry, no matter where. These people are the cream of the crop." It would cover all parks Measures that would ban guns in parks citywide also have been introduced in Memphis and Chattanooga. The Tennessee Firearms Association also expects park bans to be debated in Knoxville, Clarksville and Cookeville. Some suburban councils, including the Williamson County Board of Commissioners, the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners and the Hendersonville Board of Mayor and Aldermen, also could take up park bans. "I just feel like you don't need guns in parks," said Hendersonville Vice Mayor Steve Brown. "Sometimes, good people's tempers may get out of line. … I just don't want to take that chance." The Tennessee Firearms Association wants lawmakers to consider letting people carry handguns in at least some parks, especially large, undeveloped ones like Beaman Park and Shelby Bottoms. These parks are more isolated and, thus, more dangerous, the organization says. But the sponsors of park bans say they see no reason to write different rules for certain parks. Even Tennessee's least developed parks generally have low crime rates and are well policed, they say. "If it's bad for one, it's bad for all of them," said Jack Benson, chairman of the Chattanooga City Council. "What reason would you have for saying that some parks are gun-totin' parks?" Gun debate goes local The new state law says only a local legislative body, such as a city council or a board of aldermen, can pass a ban on handguns. That means council members will have to debate and vote on a ban before it can go in place. Firearms groups plan to use that period of debate to persuade council members not to institute a ban. Gun rights groups also will use those votes to determine whether they will support those councilmen in the future, just as they have used votes to judge state and federal politicians. "The Second Amendment will be a factor in local elections, as well," Harris said. Council members who have dealt with firearms issues in the past say they expect the debates to be intense. Last year, the Williamson County Commission debated a ban on handguns in libraries and other county buildings. Lewis Green, the commissioner who proposed the ban, withdrew the measure after it came under fire. "I got a lot of letters, a lot of e-mails, a lot of phone calls," he said. "It's a sensitive issue."

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