Gun play: Sullivan commission effort aimed at ‘those signs’ on the doors

J. H. Osborne • Aug 11, 2013 at 12:19 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — What was introduced as simply a housekeeping measure, to make clear who has authority over such things as who cleans the historic Sullivan County Courthouse, is now recognized as an effort “to take those signs off the doors.”

“Those signs” are warnings that all weapons, including guns, are prohibited from the building, which houses several county government offices frequented by the public.

The building also is home to regular meetings of the Sullivan County Commission and its various committees.

A resolution introduced a few months ago asks the County Commission to declare itself the authority over the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

It does not mention weapons possession in the building, but its original lead sponsor, Commissioner John Gardner, said early on that it would ultimately leave the commission firmly in charge of making the decision whether or not to make the building a weapons-free zone. Commissioner Baxter Hood had been listed as co-sponsor, until the full commission’s meeting last month.

When the resolution’s turn came on the commission’s agenda, Gardner said he wanted to withdraw it from consideration.

Hood asked if he, as co-sponsor, had any options to keep it alive.

County Mayor Steve Godsey and County Attorney Dan Street each indicated Hood could express a willingness to become the lead sponsor, seek a co-sponsor, and leave the resolution on the agenda.

Hood said he wanted to become the lead sponsor, but needed a co-sponsor. Commissioner Ed Marsh agreed to co-sponsor.

Hood then said he would defer action on the resolution, meaning a commission vote wouldn’t come until at least this month.

Gardner said he wanted to withdraw the resolution, in part, because of a letter he’d received in answer to questions he submitted to a lawyer working for the Tennessee General Assembly.

Gardner said the letter indicated state law would support parts of the resolution, but left a lot of gray areas.

At least half of the commission’s 24 members spoke for or against Hood’s other resolution — the one on a joint committee between the county and its cities to look at how to best utilize education resources — before Gardner suggested and Hood asked that it be deferred.

Last week, with Hood as sponsor, it again went through the commission’s committee process.

Hood said he still wants it to come to a vote, with a continuing question of whether or not the sheriff’s office is obligated to continue providing security at commission and committee meetings.

“The more I hear about this resolution, the more confused I become,” Commissioner Pat Shull told Hood during one discussion.

Commissioner Kit McGlothlin asked Hood exactly what a “yes” vote on the resolution indicates someone would be supporting.

Hood said a “yes” vote means “take those signs off the door” and “this is no longer a courthouse.”

McGlothlin asked if Hood meant the resolution aims to let people carry their guns into the building. He said people sometimes get upset during public meetings.

Pointing at a sheriff’s deputy in the room, McGlothlin said, “He’s the only one I want having a gun.”

Shull said he is in favor of the County Commission being in control of the building, but not necessarily in favor of it becoming a weapons-permitted zone.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Aug 19 on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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