Haslam has 'major concerns' on guns-in-parks bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam says he has "major concerns" about a measure supported by fellow Republicans in the Legislature seeking to do away with local government's power to decide whether to allow firearms in public parks.

The Legislature in 2009 gave city and county governments the ability to opt out of a new law that allowed people with handgun carry permits to be armed in public parks, playgrounds and sports fields.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville that would do away with local control over guns has drawn the support of fellow Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

When Haslam was Knoxville mayor, he supported a 2009 city council vote that kept in place a ban on handguns in city parks, playgrounds and sports fields.

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Nashville and many other Middle Tennessee cities could be forced to remove bans on handguns in their parks if a push under way in the Tennessee legislature succeeds.

Gun rights advocates and several lawmakers are throwing their weight behind legislation that would overturn local restrictions on handguns in public parks, five years after cities and counties were told they could opt out of a state law that opened parks to handgun owners.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield, who has filed a bill to repeal the bans, says the 2009 law has created uncertainty among gun owners as to where they can carry. But Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has asked lawmakers to vote down the proposal, arguing that it runs against efforts to protect the public and the ideal of local control.

"Put simply, I believe guns in Nashville parks is a bad idea," Dean said in a letter sent Tuesday to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The Metro Council, the locally elected legislative body, made the right decision to opt out of the state law allowing guns in parks."

The General Assembly passed a law five years ago that said people with handgun carry permits could take their weapons into any state or local park. But the law also included a provision that let local governments keep their gun bans if approved by their city or county council.

Many Middle Tennessee cities, includingNashville, Brentwood and Murfreesboro, have done so.

Senate Bill 1496 would strip away local exemptions. Campfield, R-Knoxville, said Wednesday that he believes the bans are confusing, unconstitutional and unsafe.

"I had some questions about it when we passed it originally," he said. "We have the right to legislate gun laws. The question arises whether we have the right to delegate that authority."

So far, only Campfield has signed onto the bill. A companion measure, House Bill 1407, has drawn 20 co-sponsors, including state Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, and William Lamberth, R-Cottontown.

The Tennessee Firearms Association has not endorsed the measure, but the organization generally supports repealing local gun bans.

"While the legislature clearly intended that local governments would default to leaving public parks open and only rarely close local parks in limited situations, local governments have ignored that legislative intent," the group wrote in a prepared statement.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which could take the measure up as soon as next week. Debate in the House has not yet been scheduled.


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