Bill that would allow guns in parks worries county leaders
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
Some local leaders have expressed concern over legislation that could allow guns in public parks in Williamson County.
The proposed bill — SB 1496 — passed by the Senate 27-6 on Thursday allows people with permits to carry handguns in state and local parks. The bill could become law if also passed by the House.
“We are adamantly opposed to the legislation,” said Gordon Hampton Deputy Director of Williamson County Parks and Recreation.
“We feel like the county should have an opportunity to decide on whether we want guns in parks.”
The new bill omits the previous option of allowing local governments to decide whether to ban guns by opting in or out.
“We support the current law 100 percent,” said Hampton, who prefers to opt out.
“We don’t want guns in parks.”
Many say that the new bill creates confusion because state laws prohibit guns from school premises, including school sporting events at public parks.
Many WCS sporting events are held at parks and recreation facilities contrary to many school districts across the state who have their own ball parks and fields for all sports.
“The problem is one of confusion of enforcement. Some events take place in the same park, so someone could be carrying a gun at a Little League game 50 ft. away from a high school game where guns are prohibited,” Hampton said.
The discrepancy in the law could present complex legal issues leaders say.
“Carrying a gun on school premises is a felony,” Atty. Jason Golden said, who serves as Deputy Superintendent for Williamson County Schools.
The WCS Board of Education even formally opposed the legislation by a unanimous vote last night at their regularly scheduled board meeting.
“I am 100 percent Second Amendment, but this presents a problem for school systems,” said school board member Tim McLaughlin, District 4.
“We are lucky to have the relationship that we do with parks and recreation,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney said.
“We use their facilities and they use ours.”
However, if the bill ultimately becomes law, WCS could be forced to build their own parks for sporting events in order to comply with the law, which could cost up to $36 million, Looney said.
Senator Jack Johnson (R), who voted in favor of the bill, said that he has had recent conversations with local leaders.
“The bill was passed overwhelmingly by Republicans,” Johnson said. “It’s a balancing act – respecting local control and fundamental constitutional rights.
“I have some concerns about the bill that met the Senate floor. I suspect that there will be some changes as it passes through the House. I expect a different version of the bill might pass. I have had communications with those who have concerns.”
Johnson added that concerns needed to be addressed and emphasized that only those with handgun permits, which includes strenuous background checks, are allowed to carry a gun.
“People should be able to protect themselves in parks,” he said.
Currently signs prohibiting guns in county and city parks are displayed at every park entrance warning guests about the current ban Hampton said.
“We hope that the bill doesn’t pass through the House. We hope that it will kill through veto,” Hampton said.
However, if the bill passes, Hampton would be concerned about enforcing the new law without those parameters.
“We have people [staff and volunteers] working to ensure public safety. They don’t carry a weapon. There is no way to protect the public,” he said.
Hampton, said that documented incidents during his 20-year career regarding people in Williamson County pulling guns on each other at sporting events worries him.
“Emotions run really high at athletic competitions,” he said. “Just recently, a life was lost in Alabama over an Auburn football game.”
Posted on: 2/18/2014