Editorial: Firearms issue goes local

On July 8, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

Some officials are leery about lifting the ban, but in most cases the matter is not settled yet.

Commercial Apppeal
July 8, 2009

The Tennessee General Assembly doesn’t allow guns to be carried into the Capitol, but it’s not worried about your neighborhood park. As far as the majority of its members are concerned, bring as much firepower as you like.

Fortunately, as firearms fever swept through the legislature this spring, the gun lobby wasn’t able to stop an amendment that permits local governments to maintain existing gun bans in parks, and the focus of the debate is beginning to shift.

Today, the Shelby County Commission is set to open discussion on a proposal to keep the ban in place at Shelby Farms Park, in effect concurring with the judgment of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy that firearms aren’t welcome.

The Memphis City Council appears to be headed toward a ban on guns in city parks, and the idea has a fighting chance on the commission.

Shelby County suburban legislators were reliable votes for the gun lobby. In fact among the legislature’s most ardent gun advocates during the legislative debate were Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville and Germantown’s Rep. Brian Kelsey.

But a number of suburban officials have expressed reservations about dropping the ban on guns in the parks in communities such as Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington and Lakeland.

That’s understandable, given constituents’ tendency to blame local officials when things go wrong.

Tennessee settled the question of whether handguns should be banned altogether in 1989 when the state joined a growing movement to issue carry permits to individuals who agreed to pay a fee, fill out some forms, undergo some training and pass a background check. Certain places would remain off limits, such as parks and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Unfortunately, the background check provision has not kept handgun carry permits out of the hands of more than 70 Shelby County residents with arrest histories, some of whom have been charged with robbery, assault, domestic violence and the like.

News reports have been filled in recent months with stories of arguments that could have been settled without bloodshed going terribly awry because there was a handgun close by.

We expect open and vigorous debates that give citizens concerned about the atmosphere in their city and county parks a chance to make their feelings known. It’s too late for state parks, where the legislature has decided to take down the “Firearms Prohibited” signs, but the prospects for gun-free neighborhood parks are still alive.

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