Guns-in-Parks Bill May Lose Pack-in-Plaza Amendment

The state House of Representatives on Monday night rejected granting Tennesseans who are licensed to carry firearms express permission to pack a piece “on the grounds of the state capitol or the surrounding capitol complex.”

The lower chamber voted 75-17 to scrap the provision. All those who voted against eliminating the come-strapped-to-the-Statehouse amendment were Democrats — it being a Democrat-proposed idea to start with.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville came up with the notion on April 1 as a political ploy to try and make Republicans look hypocritical for wanting to shoot down local bans on guns — even while state lawmakers themselves do their business in a place where firearms are prohibited.

The main aim of the Republican-backed legislation outlined in House Bill 995 and Senate Bill 1171 is to override local no-exception proscriptions against gun-possession in municipal or county parks, campgrounds and other public outdoor recreation areas.

Republicans, though, called Yarbro’s bluff. The GOP-dominated Senate voted 28-0 to load his amendment into the bill, thus granting permit-holders exemption not just from gun-free zone in local parks, but at the Capitol as well.

House Republicans, however, signaled they’re in no mood to abet the freshman senator’s gambit. “Obviously, it was not offered in a constructive fashion,” Republican Speaker Beth Harwell said of the Yarbro amendment.

The lower chamber’s sponsor of the guns-in-parks legislation, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, agreed. “We’re not playing games with this,” he told TNReport.

Asked if rejecting the amendment then indeed does open Republicans to charges of hypocrisy, Harrison responded, “Well, that’s something that needs to be addressed in its own bill, not at the late last hour. If people are interested in that, they need to bring a bill next year.”

The legislation now moves back to the Senate, where the upper chamber must decide whether to go along with the House’s decision to discharge the pistols-at-the-Plaza amendment. Should the senators stick to their guns, the measure would go to a “conference committee,” where the target would be to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam reiterated Monday that he’s no fan of the legislation with or without the carry-at-the-Capitol provision. However, he stopped short of promising a veto.

“One of the reasons we don’t ever say what we’re going to do on a bill is they can and do change along the way,” said the governor.

Haslam added that he’d like to get some input on the issues involved from the state attorney general’s office, including legal counsel on confusion that’s cropped up over whether the local gun bans that the state is overriding would go back in effect if schools were using the property in question.