Gun rights advocates secure arrest promise at Chilhowee Park

Sept. 14, 2016: Gun rights advocates are renewing their call for guns to be allowed into Chilhowee Park.

The Tennessee Firearms Association says several of its members were kept from carrying their guns on the Tennessee Valley Fair grounds Tuesday evening.

The group is renewing their call for guns to be allowed into Chilhowee Park, where the fair is held, citing a 2015 law that allows licensed firearms in public parks.

 “The thing is, this is Tennessee state law,” said Raymond Bergeron, of Heiskell, TN. “The city of Knoxville should be following state law.”

Bergeron is a TFA member. He said the group approached the gate of Chilhowee Park unarmed, and asked the officer there if they would be arrested if they brought their guns inside. He says Knoxville Police deputy patrol chief Monty Houk told him yes. The group videotaped the encounter, though the audio is difficult to make out.


“At which point we went off the fairgrounds property, put our guns on us and inquired to the police officers again if we would be subject to arrest if we entered the park, and he said yes you would be, and we thanked him very much and left,” said Bergeron.

Much of the debate boils down to semantics – though the 2015 state law allows guns to be carried in public parks with a license, the City of Knoxville says Chilhowee Park is a park in name only. The city considers is an entertainment venue, and exempt from the law.

City representatives also note that Chilhowee is not managed by the parks department.

That difference has spawned two lawsuits, from those that advocate for increased Second Amendment rights. Bergeron’s wife is the plaintiff in one.

PREVIOUS: City of Knoxville sued over Chilhowee Park gun ban

Bergeron said though they knew Knoxville prohibits guns at Chilhowee Park, they staged the encounter anyway to revive that case, which was in danger of being thrown out, since the plaintiffs had not tried to enter the park and been turned away before filing. The group acted on the advice of their attorney, they said.


He says now that they’ve been turned away, they gain ‘legal standing,’ or the right to sue the city, and continue their case.

“We’re going back to court,” he said. “We’ve got standing, and we’re going to hopefully force the city to remove the postings from their parks.”

Wednesday, TFA sent a release to media, headlined “Knoxville Police threaten to arrest Tennessee Handgun Permit Holders.”

KPD spokesman Darrell Debusk disputed the use of the term ‘threaten.’ He said Officer Houk told the group would only be arrested and charged if they forced their way inside, but did tell them they could not bring their guns inside. 

TFA claims the group was threatened with criminal trespass charges. KPD says no specific charges were mentioned.

Still, the discussion was all hypothetical, since the members spoke to Houk, and left without conflict. The exchange between the TFA members and Officer Houk appears to be friendly in the recording. 

TFA executive director John Harris declined to release any further recordings of the encounter, saying he was leaving the decision to the attorney handling the case.

TFA executive director John Harris declined to release any further recordings of the encounter, saying he was leaving the decision to the attorney handling the case.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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