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State Override of Local Guns-in-Parks Bans Gaining Momentum

Both chambers of General Assembly moving legislation

At least one bone of contention gun-rights enthusiasts have developed with rules governing public possession of firearms in Tennessee looks like it might get alleviated this year.

Tennessee has since 2009 allowed gun-carry permit holders to come armed into state-owned parks and natural areas.

However, locally owned public recreation lands were another matter. Whether or not the right to carry for firearm licensees was extended to local parks was left to local politicians and law enforcement.

That might no longer be the case if legislation that’s moving along in both chambers of the General Assembly ends up passing this year.

Local prohibitions against firearms in county- or city-owned parks would cease to apply to state-recognized gun-carry permit holders under Senate Bill 1171 by John Stevens of Huntingdon and House Bill 995 by Mike Harrison of Rogersville.

Both sponsors are Republicans and both houses of the Tennessee Legislature are dominated by the GOP.

This week, the lower-chamber’s Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee approved HB995 on a voice vote.

The measure has already cleared the House Civil Justice Committee. If it passes the full Finance Committee it’ll likely be scheduled for a vote on the House floor, where its chances of passing are high.

The Tennessee Firearms Association tweeted Wednesday that the Finance subcommittee has been a “traditional graveyard for gun rights legislation.”

The Senate version of the legislation, sponsored by Republican John Stevens of Huntingdon, has cleared the committee system and is headed for a full chamber floor vote.

Like HB995, SB1171 appears to be supported by most of the overwhelmingly Republican body, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Senate’s speaker.

Opponents of the state overriding local guns-in-parks bans tend to argue that local officials should retain authority to exercise control over property owned by their jurisdictions. Ramsey rejects that reasoning, arguing instead that, much like driving a car, state-licensed gun-owners have earned a recognized right to carry their weapons that trumps the shifting community-by-community attitudes of local politicians.

“Law abiding citizens who have gun-carry permits have proven they are responsible beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Ramsey said last week.

Licensed gun carriers “shouldn’t have to worry” about possibly breaking a local ordinance by entering a local park with their gun — while in a neighboring city carrying a gun in a local park may be perfectly legal, Ramsey said.

He instead favors “statewide commonality” in public parks for licensed gun carriers.

The Haslam administration has indicated that it doesn’t support the legislation, however it only takes simple majorities in each chamber of the General Assembly to override a gubernatorial veto.

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