By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post
Local elected officials are mixed in their opinions on whether to opt out of a new law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this past session that allows handgun carry permit holders to bring concealed handguns to city and county parks.
The new law was sponsored by State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. The measure goes into affect on Sept. 1 and local governments have until that date to opt out of the law if they so elect. Under the law individual cities and counties are given the choice of opting out and prohibiting guns in their parks. The new law is similar to the “guns in bars” law where individual restaurants that serve alcohol have the right to opt out and keep guns from their establishments.
The City of Watertown is the only Wilson County government entity at this time that has acted to opt out of the law. Watertown Mayor Mike Jennings said that Watertown City Council voted to opt out at its regular council meeting last week.
Other local governments are discussing the matter but have yet to take action.
The indication from several members of Lebanon’s city council is that they will probably not move to opt out of the law despite one councilor, Ward 1’s Alex Buhler, saying last week that he could see several situations where guns in public parks could be a serious threat.
Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead said that he can see both sides of the argument.
“I have a lot of friends with gun permits,” Craighead said, “and it seems to me that people with permits respect the laws. But with all the talk of guns in bars and parks, I do have a problem with them there.”
Craighead said that Lebanon City Council would likely take up the issue at last night’s meeting. (Visit www.wilsonpost.com for results on this topic).
The Wilson Post learned yesterday that bullet-proof paneling has recently been installed in the Lebanon council chambers immediately behind the desk area at which councilors sit.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam said the issue is on the agenda for the city to discuss at its next meeting on Monday, July 27 at 6:30 p.m.
“I have listened to the arguments of those bringing the law forth,” Elam said, “and I start from the position of support for the 2nd Amendment. We have the right to bear arms.” Elam said she was reserving judgment as to whether she will favor opting out of the law.
Although the Wilson County Commission has not voted on the law yet, Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman said he does not support it.
“I don’t think we need any guns in our parks,” Dedman said, “whether it’s Cedar Forrest or the local ball fields. I am not for it.”
County Commission members are somewhat mixed on whether they would support the law or opt out.
District 1 Commissioner Larry West said, “quick and simple: no. I do not want guns in our parks.”
District 2 Commissioner Chris Sorey said that he doesn’t think it is an issue. District 5 Commissioner Jerry McFarland said he did not know enough about the law to have an opinion either way.
District 19 Commissioner L.T. Jenkins said he would not vote to opt out. “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Jenkins said.
The county maintains two softball fields at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center that are available for public use.
Larry Tomlinson, who is in charge of the Ward Ag Center for the county, said that there have always been signs prohibiting firearms on the grounds.
“It’s not the people with permits that worry me,” Tomlinson said. “It’s the thugs that come in here that don’t have permits. The permit holders have been through background checks and safety courses.”
Several cities and counties have made the decision to opt out of the “guns in parks” law, including Clarksville, Johnson City, Bristol, Signal Mountain, Brentwood, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, and Williamson and Shelby counties.
Tennessee has about 220,000 permit holders but also recognizes permits issued by 19 other states. As of July 1, there were 5,607 permit holders in Wilson County, up 472 since April 1, said a spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Safety. Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe said 30-50 new permits are being presented locally per week.
Staff Writer Ben Dudley may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.