Monday, July 20, 2009

More Tennessee cities opt out of guns in parks

By Bill Poovey • ASSOCIATED PRESS • July 20, 2009 The list of cities and counties opting out of Tennessee's new law that allows people with gun permits to take their weapons into public parks keeps getting longer. While some city and county governments — including Brentwood, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, and Williamson and Shelby counties — have rushed to exempt their parks, a Nashville lawyer who has worked more than a decade for the new law said he is considering a court challenge. John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said the opt-out provision for local governments is a "travesty" and might be challenged in court. "Did the legislature have the authority to pass the buck?" Harris said. "We are researching it." Harris said the exemption option also fails to provide any way for gun-permit holders to secure their weapons in vehicles when they arrive at a park and does not address having a gun in a vehicle when traveling on a park road that is used as access to a neighboring residential area. The state has about 220,000 permit holders but also recognizes permits issued by 19 other states. Reaction was expected Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, the Senate sponsor of the guns-in-parks measure, said she is not surprised that some communities are opting out of the law. "I wasn't for that provision," she said. Aaron Sipe, 34, of south Florida, stopped by Chattanooga's Coolidge Park with his three children and others this week. He agrees with the Chattanooga City Council's vote not to go along with state lawmakers who voted to allow guns in parks. Coming from a family of hunters, Sipe said he is "all for gun rights, but they don't belong in a park." He said carrying a gun in a park is "looking for trouble." At parks operated by cities and counties where officials have voted to opt out of the law, the maximum possible penalty for violators continues to be a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. Clarksville, Johnson City, Bristol and Signal Mountain are also among municipalities where council members have voted against allowing guns in parks. In Memphis, an opt-out ordinance is in line for a final approval vote. Council members in Nashville and Union City are discussing opt-out ordinances. In Jackson, city officials refused to opt out. Larry Zehnder, parks and recreation administrator in Chattanooga, said the city has about 50 park sites where new signs will have to be posted. He said the projected cost is about $7,500, including labor. He said there are already "no weapons" signs at some parks. Meigs County Mayor Ken Jones said he asked county commissioners in a workshop session if they wanted to opt out of the state law, and "basically they said no, so it's kind of a moot point to us." Jones said he personally believes the Constitution provides the right to bear arms and "we cannot legislate gun control." Tennessee lawmakers, over Gov. Phil Bredesen's veto, also approved a law that allows handguns in bars and restaurants. More opt-outs seen Dennis Huffer, an attorney for the Municipal Technical Advisory Service agency that helped develop the opt-out resolution cities are using to exempt their parks, said it is likely there will be more opt-outs in urban areas. "You think of rural areas as being comfortable with hunting and more comfortable around guns," he said. "So far that has been sort of the trend, with the bigger cities opting out." Jones said sentiment among Meigs County commissioners possibly reflects that in rural communities generally, where people probably "grew up with guns and are more familiar with their operation than city dwellers." "Come election time, I think a lot of these people in the state legislature are going to hammered with questions dealing with gun legislation," Jones said. "I have had several people call me or meet me on the sidewalk and ask me: 'Have these people not got anything better to do?' "

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