Nashville Mayor Megan Barry is asking Gov. Bill Haslam to veto a bill that would require cities and counties to enhance security at public venues or allow permit holders to carry handguns.
The legislation would apply to parks, zoos, buses, auditoriums, museums, fairs and more. Places like Bridgestone Arena and Nissan Stadium that already have heavy security and ban handguns are not included in the legislation. Schools, libraries and law enforcement offices are also exempted.
Passed earlier this month by the state legislature after much debate, the bill also provides lawful gun owners with a private cause of action to challenge local gun control policies that run counter to state law.
Haslam is expected to sign the bill because it passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate.
However, the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) back the measure. The groups represent individuals who want their gun rights enforced and a limit on gun-free zones where citizens may be targeted by criminals who don’t abide by the rules.
“The portion of the law which gives standing to citizens and provides for attorney fee awards is an important move forward in the protection of civil rights of Tennesseans,” John Harris, a Nashville attorney and the executive director of the TFA, told The Tennessee Star.
Harris said the legislation levels the playing field when it comes to the cost of litigation.
“Now, local governments use tax dollars or taxpayer-funded staff attorneys to claim that citizens have no right to challenge their actions,” Harris said. “This legislation would shift the costs back on those local governments if officials like Megan Barry use their positions to violate the rights of citizens under state laws.”
In a letter to Haslam, Barry raised concerns about added security costs to prevent handguns in public places, according to the Associated Press. Enhanced security would have to include metal detection devices and guards. Barry also voiced concerns about the bill not exempting transit facilities, including the Music City Central bus station, where many young students are present.
In addition, Barry said the bill could encourage frivolous lawsuits by awarding triple attorney’s fees in successful lawsuits brought against local governments.
Meanwhile, Harris said the TFA is troubled by parts of the legislation, including an amendment that expanded the number of public buildings and spaces that are off limits to handguns, including public offices in some counties that were not previously off limits by state statute.
The list of off-limits places includes buildings in which judicial proceedings occur regardless of whether they are in progress. Current law refers to rooms where proceedings are in progress.
Despite what it sees as flaws, the TFA wants Haslam to sign the bill. If he doesn’t, it will just be a matter of time before a veto gets overridden or stronger gun rights legislation is passed, Harris said.