County leaders express concern over gun bill
By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
Some local leaders have expressed concern over proposed legislation that could allow guns in public parks in Williamson County.
SB 1496, passed by the Senate 27-6 last week, 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 bill changes the current law that allows 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 the 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 facilities contrary to many school districts across the state that have their own sports facilities.
“The problem is one of confusion of enforcement,” Hampton said. “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.”
The discrepancy in the law could present complex legal issues leaders say.
“Carrying a gun on school premises is a felony,” said Atty. Jason Golden, WCS deputy superintendent.
The WCS Board of Education formally opposed SB-1496 by unanimous vote Monday.
“I am 100 percent Second Amendment, but this presents a problem for school systems,” said school board member Tim McLaughlin, District 4.
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, at a cost of about $36 million, Looney said.
Sen. 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.”
Johnson added that concerns need to be addressed, emphasizing 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 local parks are displayed at every park entrance warning 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: 2/20/2014