Friday, July 31, 2009

Nashville council members hear both sides on guns-in-parks ban

Metro to decide whether to opt out of new state law By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 31, 2009 Metro Council members on Thursday peppered two groups of experts with questions about the impact of a proposal to ban guns in city parks, with each side arguing that its stance would make the parks safer. Supporters of the ban said preventing handgun carry permit holders from bringing their guns would protect children and others who simply want to enjoy themselves. Opponents said the ban would leave legal gun owners unprotected, while criminals would continue to bring their weapons. "Criminals don't obey the law," Rick Cowan, a software engineer who attended the forum in the council chamber, said after it was over. "I, and I alone, am responsible for my self-defense." A new state law allows handgun carry permit holders to take their guns into state and local parks, but it also allows city and county governments to opt out. Metro Law Director Sue Cain said last week that Nashville doesn't need to opt out, however, because the new law, while pre-empting many existing local ordinances, provides exceptions for those adopted before 1986. Metro's law, which prohibits all firearms in city parks, dates to 1966. The proposed ban wouldn't take any rights away from legal gun owners, sponsoring Councilman Jerry Maynard said, because they haven't had a right to bring guns into Metro parks for the past 43 years. Maynard and other supporters of the gun ban are expected to continue their pursuit of the opt-out when the council meets next Thursday. If they dropped the legislation, opponents then could try to repeal the 1966 law. The audience of about 25 people and the dozen or so council members who attended were dominated by Second Amendment advocates. They worked to make the case that Metro parks and greenways are already unsafe, while gun ban supporters said the parks are often full of children and close to schools and don't need anymore guns brought in. Metro police Capt. Rich Foley, head of the park police, said there were 71 misdemeanor arrests and 24 felony arrests in the parks in the first six months of this year. Three of the people who were arrested were carrying handguns, none of them legally. But Foley said less than one crime a day was reported in 2008 in the parks system, which has 115 locations. Of the 332 crimes last year, 76 were violent, while the rest were burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts, he said. The violent crimes included 48 aggravated assaults, 22 robberies, four rapes and two homicides.

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