Bill to let gun permit holders carry guns in Tennessee state parks clears committee

Hank Hayes • May 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Legislation that would let Tennessee gun permit holders carry handguns in state parks moved forward in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday with an amendment allowing gun possession in additional public areas – including playgrounds and civic centers.

Lawmakers on the committee debated the merits and listened to the potential pitfalls of state Rep. Frank Niceley’s handgun-carry bill before passing the amended version by a 6-4 vote.

“The legal permit holders in this state have demonstrated they are responsible. Their behavior is as good or better than law enforcement,” Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said in advocating the bill. The legislation has two Northeast Tennessee co-sponsors: state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City.

State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, voted for Niceley’s bill.

“People who have a (gun) permit...have attended classes and have a clear record. I am much more comfortable with somebody who has taken those steps going through a state park,” Lundberg said.

Committee Chairman Rob Briley, D-Nashville, tacked on two bill amendments, and both of them could be perceived as being potential bill killers.

The first amendment repeals prohibitions on carrying firearms at playgrounds, parks and civic centers – any area owned or operated by the government.

“The reason I proposed the amendment was to have a discussion and to try and figure out where the lines should be drawn,” Briley said of the amendment.

Briley’s second amendment called for signage to be posted – at taxpayers’ expense – at all state parks notifying visitors that gun permit holders could carry weapons inside the park.

Niceley’s legislation, which now moves on to a possible House floor vote, does not cover schools or college campuses, which will remain off limits to handguns. The Senate version of the bill hasn’t been considered yet by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“There are a certain set of folks who want to do away with the right of people to bear arms,” said state Rep. Frank Buck, D-Dowellton. “There are another bunch of folks who want to carry them anywhere they want to. In my view both of them are extreme. Both of them are not in touch with the realities of the life in the world in which we live...(but) the thugs in this day and time don’t know who’s armed and who’s not.”

Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas, who was at the committee meeting to speak on another bill, did not want to expand the law to allow legal gun carrying in public places. Neither did the Tennessee Park Rangers Association, which spoke out against Niceley’s bill.

“This makes our job more difficult,” said Serpas, who noted there are about 75,000 gun permit holders in the state.

Tennessee Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke, who heads up the department overseeing state parks, indicated Niceley’s bill might be bad for business.

“People will be intimidated,” Fyke said of park visitors’ potential reactions to gun carriers. “We’re not going to know who has a (gun) permit and who doesn’t.”

Fyke noted state parks have 50 million visitors annually, with only eight people having crimes committed against them while on park property in 2006.

Still, gun carry advocates on the committee indicated people will be safer if Niceley’s bill becomes law.

“We don’t have enough police officers to protect everyone’s safety,” said state Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma.

“Why should lawbreakers be the only people allowed to have handguns in a playground, in a state park or in these public areas?” asked state Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville.

For more about the bill go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on “Legislation.” The bill’s number is HB 2184.

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