‘Guns-in-Parks’ Clears First Hurdle

Gun-free zones imposed by local governments in public parks under their jurisdiction are once again in the crosshairs of legislation at the Tennessee Capitol.

House Bill 0995 cleared its first lower-chamber committee this week on 4-2 vote. The bill would remove the current local-option in state law that allows county and municipal officials to entirely ban firearms in parks they supervise. The bill would exempt gun-carry permit holders to possess a firearm on those grounds.

Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to rid the state of a confusing “patchwork” of differing regulations for those licensed to carry their weapons.

Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, the measure’s sponsor, said Wednesday during a House Civil Justice Subcommittee that the measure “provides continuity all across the state” with respect to firearms regulations. Morristown Republican Tilman Goins is a co-sponsor of the proposal. He also has similar legislation — HB0274 — scheduled to be heard by the subcommittee next week.

Voting for the measure were Republican Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Jim Coley of Bartlett, Jon Lundberg of Bristol and Leigh Wilburn of Somerville.

Nashville Democrats Sherry Jones and Bill Beck cast their votes against the bill.

Beck raised the issue of the state trumping local control. He wondered why local governments should have the power of local control over wine sales in grocery stores, but not over banning guns from their parks.

“In this particular case I can’t tell you what would be good for Lake City. I couldn’t tell you what would be good for Millington’s parks. But I can tell you what’s good for Davidson County Parks,” Beck said.

Beck cited consistently dropping crime rates around Nashville’s parks as a result of increased law enforcement patrols.

Jones asked Harrison if he would consider including an exemption for Davidson County. “No,” Harrison responded. If it doesn’t affect the whole state, the bill had no purpose, he said.

Goins said while he respects opponents’ concerns for children’s safety, criminals aren’t likely to abide by a gun-ban anyway.

Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, is sponsoring the upper chamber’s companion bill, SB1171. It is scheduled for a hearing in the Judiciary Committee next week.

Although the guns-in-parks proposal passed the Senate on a vote of 26-7 last year, the House version — sponsored by Goins — ultimately failed when it was “placed behind the budget” as a result of a $38,000 fiscal note.

Harrison, who said at the time he supported the measure, is chairman of that subcommittee. The current fiscal note lists a one-time cost increase of $24,000

John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said in an emailed statement that the patchwork of regulations is exposing both Tennesseans and out-of-state permit holders “to confusing prohibitions that are impossible to comprehend.”

Gov. Bill Haslam, who was downgraded by the National Rifle Association to a “C” on gun rights during last year’s primary season, told reporters earlier this week that he’s still mulling what to do should the legislation reach his desk.

Haslam echoed comments he made last year over local control. Local governments have “bought and paid for” the parks, and “should be able to decide what happens with them,” Haslam told reporters after an event at Lipscomb University Tuesday.

On the other hand, said the governor, “there’s been some discussion” among all the interested parties dealing with concerns about if the legislation is written the same as last year’s.

In 2009, as mayor of Knoxville, Haslam said he supported the city council’s continuation of their gun ban in city parks due to how close some public parks are to schools and other gun free zones.

More firearms bills on deck next week

A range of other gun-related bills were expected to be heard in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee this week, but were rolled to next week’s meeting.

Germantown Sen. Brian Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced last Thursday that his committee will be holding a special calendar for gun-related legislation on March 10.

After the Lipscomb event this week, Haslam told reporters none of the bills are “coming out of our office,” but did not express outright opposition to them.

The TFA sent out an email alert this week urging supporters to contact legislators and ask them to vote for “constitutional carry” bills sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale. That legislation would allow anyone who legally owns a firearm to carry it in public, regardless of whether or not they’ve obtained a permit.

Harris recently pointed out that in 2010, while campaigning for governor, Haslam promised to sign constitutional carry into law should the Legislature pass it.

Haslam later walked that pledge back a bit, admitting to reporters he should have been clearer with the TFA about his feelings and intent. But he doubted at the time it would pass the Legislature.

The following 27 pieces of firearms-related legislation — a few of them duplicate bills — are on notice to be heard in their respective committees next week:

  • SB0874/HB0934 – by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Permits the use of exploding targets in lawful sporting activity; exempts the use of exploding materials for lawful sporting activity from the Tennessee Blasting Standards Act of 1975.
  • SB0529/HBo476 – by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains and Rep. David Shepard, D-Dickson; Exempts honorably discharged veterans from the renewal fee for handgun carry permits.
  • SB0700/HB0745 – by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains and Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr., R-Elizabethton; Creates a lifetime handgun carry permit which entitles the permit holder to carry any handgun that the permit holder legally owns or possesses without expiration; sets the application fee for a lifetime handgun carry permit at $500.
  • SB1103/HB1046 – by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville and Rep. Williams Lamberth, R-Cottontown; Establishes certain procedures regarding the disposition of confiscated or abandoned firearms in state or local custody, including the sale and destruction of such firearms.
  • SB0886/HB1304 – by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown and Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson; Establishes certain procedures for the petitioning of a court for relief from firearms disabilities established for a prior judicial commitment or adjudication order for mental illness.
  • SB0181/HB0136 – by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby; Creates an exception to the offense of possession of a machine gun, short-barreled rifle or shotgun, or a firearm silencer that the person was in compliance with the National Firearms Act when possessing.
  • SB1215/SB1255 – by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin; Requires the chief law enforcement officer of a jurisdiction to certify the transfer or making of a firearm, as required by the National Firearms Act, within 15 days if the person is not prohibited from receiving or possessing a firearm by law; permits an applicant to appeal a denial to the circuit court. 
  • SB0070/HB0481 – by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Clarifies that it is not an offense for a person to transport and properly store a firearm in a motor vehicle parked on school property.
  • SB0149/HB0173 – by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville and Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington; Removes the provision making it illegal to possess a firearm on any property used by a school for the administration of any public or private educational institution.
  • SB0312/HB0206 – by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville and Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville; Adds certain exceptions to the definitions of “explosive weapon” and “restricted firearm ammunition” to permit possession or use of blank ammunition and certain practice rounds; creates a new affirmative defense to prosecution of prohibited weapons if possessed in accordance with certain federal laws or regulated by the ATF.
  • SB1239/HB1112 – by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby; Adds certain requirements regarding handgun carry permit applications, including requiring an alien or admission number from a noncitizen applicant; allows a gun dealer to sell a firearm to a handgun carry permit holder without conducting a background check or entering the TBI unique approval number on the transaction record.
  • SB0207/HB0240 – by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains and Rep. Jay D. Reedy, R-Erin; Allows a gun dealer to complete a firearms transaction with a handgun carry permit holder without requiring a criminal history record check, if the permit was issued or renewed within five years of the date of transaction.
  • SB0633/HB0683 – by Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough; Prohibits schools from requiring students or parents to provide information on firearm ownership; prohibits LEAs from requiring employees to provide information on firearm ownership; prohibits adverse disciplinary or employment action based on information of firearm ownership that is voluntarily provided.
  • SB1171/HB0995 – by Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon and Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogerville; Allows a person with a handgun carry permit to carry a firearm in any state, county, or municipal park or other recreation area; deletes provisions allowing local governments to prohibit carrying in parks by resolution or ordinance.
  • SB1170/HB0996 – by Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon and Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr., R-Elizabethton; Permits a person with a handgun carry permit to carry a firearm in any state, county, or municipal park or other recreation area; deletes provisions allowing local governments to prohibit carrying in parks by resolution or ordinance.
  • SB0168/HB0202 – by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma and Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown; Extends liability for civil damages to public and private employers who take an adverse employment action against an employee who lawfully transports and stores a firearm in a motor vehicle.
  • SB0628/HB0320 – by Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Authorizes handgun carry permit holders to carry firearms in the same manner as off-duty law enforcement officers. 
  • SB0774/HB0682 – by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough; Rewrites the minimum requirements for phrases and symbols on signs prohibiting firearms in certain places open to the public.
  • SB0783/HB0677 – by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough; Designates the Barrett Model 82A1 rifle as the official state firearm.
  • SB0784/SB0684 – by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough; Enacts the “Open Carry Firearms Freedom Act of 2015.”
  • SB0780/HB0535 – by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet and Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale; Permits a person who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm to possess a firearm, openly or concealed, regardless of whether the person has a handgun permit.
  • SB1245/HB1316 – by Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville and Rep. Harold Love, Jr., D-Nashville; Creates the Class A misdemeanor offense of intentionally carrying certain weapons and devices openly within 250 feet of the real property of a public or private preschool, elementary school, middle school, or secondary school with certain exceptions.
  • SB1110/HB1341 – by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville and Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster; Prohibits the use of any public funds, personnel, or property to enforce any federal law or regulation that regulates the ownership, use, or possession of firearms, ammunition, or firearms accessories.
  • SB1076/HB0596 – by Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis and Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis; Requires that any person convicted for the unlawful sale, gift, or loan of a firearm to a minor or intoxicated person be punished as criminally responsible for any resulting crime; requires the person serve all the time sentenced without parole.
  • SB0495/HB0139 – by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis and Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville; Creates a Class E felony of intentionally possessing a firearm that the person knows or reasonably should know is stolen.
  • SB1008/HB1094 – by Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City and Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville; Permits constables who have law enforcement powers to carry firearms at all times and in all places in Tennessee that other law enforcement officers are permitted to carry firearms. 
  • SB1217/HB0739 – by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville and Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown; Allows a retired law enforcement officer with 10 years or more of service to be identified on the officer’s handgun carry permit by a blue stripe across the permit and the words “retired law enforcement officer.”