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MJ nods guns in parks

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State Attorney General: No weapons allowed in parks with school events

By BEN DUDLEYand By TOMI L. WILEYThe Wilson Post

MT. JULIET -- Mt. Juliet commissioners voted Monday night to not opt out of a new state law that allows people with handgun carry permits to carry their guns into public parks.

Commissioners took the action after State Attorney General Robert Cooper issued an opinion on Monday that said Tennessee’s ban on weapons at school events supersedes the new law that opens parks to handguns.

Local citizens on both sides of the issue attended the scheduled meeting, resulting in a packed room that sparked several times with conflict between people with opposing opinions. The overwhelming majority of area residents who attended the meeting were in favor of not opting out, meaning people with permits would be allowed to carry guns in “municipal parks, natural areas, historic parks, nature trails, campgrounds, forests, greenways, waterways, or other similar areas,” as the ordinance reads. More than a dozen local citizens, including some from Lebanon, spoke during the citizens comments section of the meeting, and almost all of them were against opting out.

District 1 Commissioner Ted Floyd asked several weeks ago for local residents to contact him and tell him “how to vote.” He said Monday night that of the 37 emails and/or phone calls he received 31 people were against opting out and six people were in approval of it.

District 2 Commissioner Will Sellers pointed out that the item was on the agenda because he is a member of the Mt. Juliet Parks and Greenways Board, which unanimously approved a recommendation to opt out of the new law. He noted that he did not see the “justification of having guns in those places.”

District 3 Commissioner Ed Hagerty said he felt as if he were “preaching to the choir,” and that he only had two calls from constituents who wanted to opt out. He argued that “our parks are safe now, but crime is rising with the Mt. Juliet population.”

District 4 Commissioner Jim Bradshaw reminded everyone that Lowe’s is open and commended Mt. Juliet city staff on handling Monday’s gas line break on Mt. Juliet Road.

Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam, the “pistol-packing mama,” said she had originally wanted to separate the various areas covered in the new law, but that wasn’t possible to do with the way it is written. She said for her it was “a pretty easy decision,” and she thinks guns should have been allowed in state parks for a long time.

Commissioners voted 3 – 2 for Mt. Juliet to not opt out of the new law, with Floyd, Hagerty and Elam voting against the ordinance and Bradshaw and Sellers voting in favor of the ordinance to opt out. Officials pointed out that opting out of this law does not affect the Mt. Juliet Little League Park, which is privately owned and a non-profit organization.

There will be no second reading, since the ordinance died at the table.

Watertown City Council voted to opt out of the new law, and Lebanon City Council so far has not taken up the issue.

Under the AG’s opinion, state law that supersedes the new bill applies to Baird Park Complex in Lebanon where Lebanon High School plays baseball and softball, Three Forks Park in Watertown where Watertown High School plays baseball and softball, and Charlie Daniels Park in Mt. Juliet where Mt. Juliet High School, Wilson Central High School and Mt. Juliet Christian Academy play tennis.

“By its plain terms, (the law) prohibits the possession of firearms on athletic fields and recreation facilities, including those that are located in public parks, if such fields or facilities are actually being used by a school,” Cooper said in his opinion. “There is nothing in its language to indicate the legislature intended to modify in any way the prohibitions that are set forth.”

State Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, requested the opinion to address situations where parks are attached to schools, he said.

The statewide ban on weapons during school events – which also includes explosives, slingshots and certain knives – applies even if the event is held in a park where carrying a handgun is otherwise permitted.

The ruling displeased one gun rights advocate who has been vocal lately on both the guns in parks and guns in bars laws.

A school-events ban will confuse handgun owners, who often won’t have any idea until they get to a park that a game is taking place, said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet and may be contacted at Editor@thechronicleofmtjuliet.com.

Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at ben@wilsonpost.com.

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