Roundtable Participants Agree: Easing Restrictions on Guns in Parks is a Bad Idea


Nashville, Franklin still to ban guns at some park events

The Tennessean by Dave Boucher - Nashville sports fans, don't bring your guns to Tennessee Titans or Nashville Predators games.

Despite a recent opinion issued by the Tennessee attorney general, Metro Nashville officials said Thursday they still plan to ban guns at Nissan Stadium and Bridgestone Arena.

"Guns are not permitted in those facilities, that's absolutely clear. I want to make sure everybody understands that," Metro Law Director Saul Solomon said Thursday.

"The attorney general's opinion is just that: It's an opinion of the attorney general. It has no force of law."

Metro is banning guns at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville too, while Franklin officials plan to ban guns at the upcoming Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival.

Solomon and Metro Sports Authority Executive Director Toby Compton joined officials from Franklin, Memphis and around the state in a roundtable discussion Thursday at the state Capitol about the new guns-in-parks law. Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, created the event to discuss the new law, opinion from the attorney general and the potential ramifications both will have on events at parks or publicly owned venues around the state.

Lawmakers passed a bill aimed at prohibiting local municipalities from banning people who have valid handgun permits from taking their guns to municipal parks. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion about the law that goes beyond parks, though.

"By its plain terms, as amended (the law) applies to all parks and all other recreational facilities that are owned or operated by a county or municipality. County or municipal ownership is all that is needed to bring the property within the scope of the statute," Slatery wrote in part of the opinion.

Several attorneys, including the former general counsel to ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen, recently told The Tennessean they thought the opinion opens the door to people with valid handgun permits being allowed to enter large municipal arenas with guns.

That may be Slatery's opinion, but that's not what the law says, in Solomon's opinion.

"He's trying to interpret the law and apply it to a situation where it's not specifically addressed by the law. And I think that's open to interpretation. He came down one way on it, and I think it's really open to interpretation," Solomon said after the event.

Solomon said he sympathizes with the attorney general because the law is ambiguous, in his opinion. But he doesn't think it applies to venues such as Nissan Stadium or Bridgestone Arena, and neither does Compton, who oversees both venues in his role with the Metro Sports Authority.

"We are not a park. None of our facilities are a park," Compton said during the event. "But media reports and others have suggested suddenly weapons and guns will be allowed in facilities, and that is not the case."

Disputes over the law might need to be settled in court, Solomon acknowledged. That case could be avoided if lawmakers take further action: Clemmons and Harris are working on legislation that would specifically exempt large municipal arenas from the law.

The Democrats would really like to repeal the entire law, but that's not likely in the GOP-controlled General Assembly, Clemmons said.

"I would love to see it repealed; however, I have given up on common sense on issues like this coming out of my state legislature and my colleagues on some of these issues," Clemmons said.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the law but said at the time it is worth monitoring the impact of the bill. He recently said he thinks lawmakers should address the law again this legislative session.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he isn't sure Tennessee needs any more gun bills at all during the upcoming legislative session. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, voted against the law this year, but said she'd have to look over any proposed exemption to the law before she'd support changes.

"I understand Metro's concerns. You know, I don't take lightly going against an AG's opinion, though," Harwell said Thursday.

"It's a tough position for our city to be in, and I'm sorry we're in this position."

Others who attended Thursday's event spoke against easing restrictions on guns in general. That includes gun-control organizations such as the Safe Tennessee Project, but also the Tennessee Sheriffs Association and Kevin Wilson, senior vice president of business affairs for the Country Music Association. No organizations with opposite views, such as the National Rifle Association, participated in the event.

As of Aug. 4, there were 509,510 valid handgun permits in Tennessee.