Speaker Beth Harwell predicted Thursday that legislation to block local bans on guns in parks will reach the floor of the state House of Representatives, but she said she expects it to be amended to allow restrictions near children.
The Nashville Republican said at a Tennessee Press Association conference that guns-in-parks legislation "is the will of the House" but there nonetheless may be room for a compromise that keeps guns away from children's facilities.
She said she favored leaving the power to decide where guns can be carried in the hands of state lawmakers.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who also spoke at the conference, said he supports overturning local exemptions to the 2009 state law that declared handgun carry permit holders should be able to take their guns into parks. He said he frequently keeps a gun in his truck, a practice that could run him into legal trouble if he were to visit parks near his home.
"It's about common sense, and it is about the 400,000 people" in Tennessee who have handgun carry permits, he said.
Five years ago, the state legislature passed a law that stated all parks in Tennessee should be open to handguns, but they included a provision that let city and county governments opt out of the law and implement local bans. Many cities, including Metro Nashville, Brentwood and Franklin, have kept their bans. Some, such as Mt. Juliet and Gallatin, allow firearms.
Supporters of a new guns-in-parks bill say the patchwork of rules is confusing to handgun carry permit holders. A measure that would create a single rule for parks across the state, Senate Bill 1496, has made its through Senate committees but was removed from a House subcommittee calendar on Wednesday before it was discussed.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has urged lawmakers to reject the bill, arguing that local governments should be free to police their public property. Gov. Bill Haslam, a former mayor of Knoxville, has agreed.
Ramsey and Harwell said Thursday, though, that the bill remains under discussion. Both said carrying a firearm is a constitutional right that should be governed by the state of Tennessee.
Harwell added that several members of the House have voiced uneasiness about allowing guns in areas frequented by children. She suggested lawmakers may agree to different rules for parks, such as Nashville's Percy Warner, that have no dedicated facilities for children.