Harwell wants guns-in-parks bill more 'palatable' to local gov't

The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill repealing a key compromise built into the 2009 so-called guns-in-parks law, although the House is planning to soften the measure before sending it to the floor.

The upper chamber voted 26-7 Thursday in favor of a bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that would repeal local government’s ability to ban guns in their parks, essentially allowing gun possession by handgun carry permit holders in any park in the state.

The vote landed largely along party lines, although Memphis Democrat Ophelia Ford voted in favor of the bill and East Tennessee Republican Doug Overbey voted against.

Overbey told the Republican Caucus before the vote he’d vote “no,” pointing out the state permits discretion for private businesses to ban guns in their establishments but would refuse that power to local governments.

“To say a city can’t do that doesn’t make any sense to me,” he told the members.

The House version of the bill was taken off notice earlier this month, a moved designed to take a timeout to make the language “a little more palatable to our local governments,” House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters after the Senate vote.

“We believe in Second Amendment rights. We want to be sensitive of that. We also want to be very sensitive of the fact that local governments have their place to play as well. These are local parks financed by our local government, patrolled by our local governments, so I think they should have some say,” she said.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean wrote a letter last month asking lawmakers to reject the bill. Guns are currently banned in Metro's 121 parks and 19 greenways, per a vote by the Metro Council.

Gov. Bill Haslam has expressed “major concerns” over taking authority away from local governments earlier this year. Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey together told newspaper reporters and editors last week they see the issue making it to the floor in both chambers.