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VOL. 41 | NO. 17 | Friday, April 28, 2017

Bill making it harder for cities to restrict guns passes House

By Sam Stockard

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Legislation making it easier for Tennessee cities to be sued over gun restrictions eased through the House on Wednesday even though it would allow those filing lawsuits to claim triple attorney fees.

“This bill levels the playing field for our citizens when they are trying to protect their Second Amendment rights,” Rep. William Lamberth said.

The bill, which passed 70-24, allows local governments to prohibit guns on property such as courthouses, public libraries and schools and in arenas and venues with metal detectors and security. But it would allow guns, for practical purposes, in bus terminals and even on public buses if cities and counties don’t use metal detectors or security to check people for guns.

The Portland Republican contended cities such as Nashville and Knoxville have attorneys on staff and millions of dollars at their disposal to defend themselves against unconstitutional measures that infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights.

The bill, which has been approved by the Senate’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee, is a continuation of the guns-in-parks legislation passed two years ago allowing people with conceal-carry permits to pack guns in city parks. Legislators pointed out the mayor of Knoxville deemed Chilhowee Park was no longer a park, so the city could prohibit people from carrying guns there.

The House defeated several attempts to amend the bill, including one from Rep. Bill Dunn, a Knoxville Republican, who argued that tripling attorney fees would create an “unfair advantage” for groups filing suit against cities.

He pointed out the National Rifle Association, which has deep resources, would be able to join lawsuits against municipalities that adopt firearm restrictions, rejecting Lamberth’s contention the bill is designed to protect a man who lives in a “trailer park.”

“We’re hammering our locals,” Dunn said, arguing the measure goes straight to a “nuclear bomb” that could hurt city and county governments.

The bill could affect Davidson County and its efforts to prohibit guns in its downtown transit terminal where a deadly shooting took place in 2016.

Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell of Nashville tried to amend the measure by removing Davidson County. He pointed out Metro Police had just apprehended a murder suspect from outside the county.

“I’m defending my county, and we’re sick of this in our county. You want guns in our little leagues, you want guns in our Head Starts, you want guns in our schools,” Mitchell said. “I think now we want AK by pre-K.”

His amendment was defeated handily, though, along with another by Rep. John Ray Clemmons, a Nashville Democrat, who sought to exempt public transit and property such as bus terminals and buses from the bill. He argued it could force cities to put a metal detector on every bus, costing urban areas in excess of $35 million.

Lamberth told the body he felt bus terminals should not be exempted because of the shooting that took place in Nashville. Clemmons, however, said that logic meant the bill’s sponsor also wants guns to be allowed in churches and schools, where shootings have taken place.

The House also killed an amendment designed to reduce the cost to local governments.

“It is an extraordinary bill that imposes unprecedented costs,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, chairman of the House Minority Caucus.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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