County tables vote on banning guns in parks

The two cities said No to handguns in the parks. Blount County commissioners heard public opinions on the issue, but decided to wait on bringing a resolution to a vote.

Now the question is, “Is a vote by the county needed at all?”

During the Blount County Commission workshop on Aug. 11, Blount County Commissioner Mike Lewis sponsored a resolution to ban handguns in county parks, sending the issue to the full commission. At the beginning of the commission meeting on Aug. 20, Lewis asked that his resolution be moved to September’s agenda because a published report said the commission would not be taking action on the issue in August.

County attorney Rob Goddard said later that when the matter initially came up, he had not seen resolutions from the cities of Alcoa and Maryville banning handguns in parks, but public acts provide that if parks are jointly operated or owned, the vote of a majority of the legislative bodies that operate them is enough to prevent carrying of handguns in parks.

County Commission Chairman Steve Samples said that on Thursday afternoon of the commission meeting, Goddard called and said he may have addendum to his opinion. “He felt like the resolutions that Maryville and Alcoa passed were not broad enough, and that they specifically only dealt with parks within their jurisdiction,” Samples said.

Samples said he sent a letter to the County Technical Assistance Service, a legal advisory service of the University of Tennessee, asking questions regarding the state law allowing guns in parks. He has asked CTAS to answer: Can the commission act on banning guns in parks after Sept. 1? Is that the date when the law goes into effect or is it a deadline for municipalities and county governments to act? Did the Maryville and Alcoa votes banning guns in parks constitute the decision for all parks in Blount County, or did the county commission still need to vote? How specific do the resolutions have to be?

Samples said he sent the letter to CTAS on the Friday after commission meeting. As of Tuesday night, Aug. 25, Samples said he had not received a reply.

The commission chair said he spoke with Goddard who he said advised him the commission could take action after Sept. 1. “Sept. 1 is just when the law becomes effective,” he said. “It doesn’t prohibit the commission from acting after Sept. 1.

Goddard said he understood the commission will consider the ban at another time but as of Sept. 1, the law allowing guns in parks will be effective in parks in the county. “If you haven’t banned them by Sept. 1, it becomes legal to carry a firearm only in parks in the county, but not in the cities of Maryville or Alcoa. That doesn’t preclude municipalities or counties from banning them in the future,” he said.

Samples said he didn’t know what the commission will do at the next scheduled meeting. “I don’t know if it will come up for vote in September or not,” he said.

The night of the Aug. 20 commission meeting, Mayor Jerry Cunningham said a vote will be required in September to ban guns in parks but many had contacted his office opposing the ban.

“I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of calls from people who support their second amendment right to legally carry handguns,” he said.

The mayor said he tended to agree with those who support individuals’ rights to legally carry weapons. The mayor said the number of calls in support of that principle were overwhelmingly 30-1.

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