MT. JULIET, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers should consider reviewing a new law that allows handgun carry permit holders to bring firearms to parks, playgrounds and sports fields following a key opinion from the state's attorney general, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday,
Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion last week saying private organizations that use the parks for events cannot prevent licensed permit holders from taking weapons into the events. His opinion has sparked concern among organizers of events like the Memphis in May festival that draws thousands each year.
Although he signed the bill earlier this year, Haslam said at the time in a letter to the speakers of the House and Senate that he remained concerned about potential unintended consequences for local leaders.
The governor acknowledged to reporters following a Mt. Juliet event on Monday that Slatery's opinion has raised questions that may justify lawmakers reviewing the guns-in-parks measure for possible clarity.
"When I wrote both speakers the letter when I signed the bill, I said because this is changing things it merits some close observation to see are there some situations that we should go back in and address," Haslam said. "I would urge the Legislature to go back and say are there specific situations, now that you have the attorney general's opinion, that you want to provide clarity to."
Under the new law, Slatery said in the opinion, local governments can't prohibit permit holders from taking handguns to parks and therefore can't delegate the authority to anyone else.
Organizers of events at Nashville's new Ascend Amphitheater and next year's Memphis in May celebration have said they planned to ban guns. Under Slatery's opinion, they couldn't do that.
Senate Democratic Leader Lee Harris of Memphis, who opposed the new law and requested the opinion, believes it could have "negative implications across the state." He plans to host a roundtable later this month in Nashville with gun safety advocates.
"If this is allowed to stand, some of these major festivals may decide to end or move out of public parks," Harris said. "Given the economic impact of these festivals, we have to do something so that people can feel safe at major festivals and concerts. We need legislation that makes clear that organizers can ban guns at these events when they believe there is a security risk."
Beth Joslin Roth, policy director for the Safe Tennessee Project, said there have been at least 20 accidental shootings in Tennessee so far this year and that there's a greater "possibility of these kinds of accidental shootings happening in extremely crowded situations such as an outdoor concert venue or festival."
The Tennessee Firearms Association said it has analyzed the opinion and generally agrees with its conclusions, but "believes that the opinion, read in isolation, creates potential and unnecessary confusion regarding the current status of Tennessee law on this subject."
"This confusion can result in civilians with handgun permits being arrested on felony charges," the group said.
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