JOHNSON CITY - Two local state legislators have set their sights on gun owners' rights this session, specifically the ability to carry arms in state and local parks.
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, and state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, have attached their names to similar handgun bills that would expand Tennessee handgun carry permit laws to parks and recreational areas.
House Bill 2884, which Hill has signed onto as a co-sponsor, says law-abiding gun permit holders can carry within the boundaries of any state park, public park or other recreational areas owned by state, county or city governments.
"I am 100 percent in full support of our Second Amendment rights, and I believe this legislation supports just that," Hill said.
Hill said recent events at Virginia Tech emphasized the need of citizens to protect their families.
"I think there is heightened awareness right now that law-abiding citizens should have the right to defend themselves," Hill said in a news release. "Many public parks are in areas where they could be prone to crime or violence. For example, Sedley Alley was executed last year for the 1985 rape and brutal murder of Suzanne Collins, who was jogging in a park near Memphis when the crime occurred."
Hill said the legislation is not only a good way to support, but to promote, Second Amendment rights.
"Some people want to take away our Second Amendment rights," he said. "The right to self-defense is a fundamental right. Our Constitution recognizes the right to use arms in self-defense. Statistics show that our state's right-to-carry law has not been abused and that our permit holders have acted wisely. They must go through a thorough background check and tests before even being allowed to carry a handgun."
Crowe's bill, in which he is one of the lead sponsors, has already been passed by the Senate and is similar to Hill's.
It goes so far as to say if you are a legal handgun permit holder, it allows you to carry a gun while camping, hiking, etc., according to Crowe.
"There have been so many people harmed while hiking our state parks," Crowe said. "These days it's a little unsafe to hike in a remote area without a weapon."
Initially, Crowe said the bill ran into some opposition from the Tennessee Wildlife Commission due to a lack of wording surrounding the use of a handgun in such forested areas.
"We put in an amendment that said handguns are not to be used to shoot game," he said. "That was what the Wildlife Commission had some apprehension about."
Crowe, like Hill, believes that people who care enough to get a gun permit, go through the course and have their backgrounds checked are safe enough to carry in such public areas.
"I've always been in favor of people who legally carry firearms to carry in a way in which they would be used to protect their family and themselves," said Crowe, who has a carry permit himself.
"I've always felt that so many situations could be averted if you have the right people, who are trained and carry legally."
Each bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee today.