NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gun legislation currently pending in the Tennessee legislature is causing confusion about gun-free zones, and heartburn between lawmakers and the media.
The Tennessee House passed a bill last week that would make it illegal to carry a fake gun, or a number of other items like explosives, within 150 feet of a school. The legislation would also address the ability to carry guns in parks, which would be legal under the bill but only in parks not used by schools, The Tennessean reports.
Tennessee lawmakers contend there’s no need to include real guns in the ban because the federal “Guns Free School Zones” act already makes it illegal for anyone without a permit to take a gun within 1,000 feet of a school.
“If a person has a permit from the state in which the school is located, though, they can take the gun near school property, the (federal) law states,” according to the news site.
In other words, Tennessee’s pending legislation would make it illegal to carry a squirt gun near school property, but a valid permit holder could tote their gun around the campus without violating the law. The proposed Tennessee legislation also provides exemptions for parents who leave a gun in their car while picking their children up from school, the Tennessean reports.
The ban on fake guns “was included in a larger bill that would nix any local laws prohibiting people with gun permits from taking guns to parks,” according to the news site.
“A person commits an offense who intentionally carries an explosive, explosive weapon, permanently disabled firearm, hoax device, imitation firearm, machete, or sword openly within one hundred fifty feet of the real property that comprises the grounds or facilities of a public or private preschool, elementary school, middle school, or secondary school,” the amendment reads.
“There’s no need to include real guns in the amendment because it is already covered,” House Republican spokesman Cade Cothren told the Tennessean. “The amendment added additional weapons to the list that aren’t covered under other areas of state and federal law.”
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada told the Associated Press all guns are already barred from facilities owned, maintained or used by a school, and the new legislation would allow schools to extend the prohibition to parks used by students for school events simply by posting a sign.
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“This is a school operated park,” Casada told the news service. “Owned, operated or used are the three words.”
Republican lawmakers are also working to strip another amendment added to the bill that would allow gun permit holders to carry a weapon into the state capitol because they believe it will increase the changes that Gov. Bill Haslam will veto the bill, the AP reports.
That certainly seems the case.
Haslam told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he is taking issue with two parts of the bill.
“I think our safety and security folks have some major concerns about (the state capitol’s inclusion), which they’ll be expressing today in terms of both the practical realities of how that would happen as well as the process,” Haslam said today.
The other issue centers on parks that are used by schools, but not owned or operated by a school district.
“There’s obviously a lot of confusion about what happens at parks that are used by schools, but not owned by schools, but are used at some point in time” by a school, he said.
“Exactly what is the law on that? That confusion is something we’re working on to clear up.”
Reporters have already tried to raise questions about that issue and others surrounding the legislation, but it’s clear they don’t like the bill and lawmakers don’t like them asking loaded questions about the bill.
At a press conference last week reporters got into it with Republican lawmakers about the theoretical differences between guns and bicycles, when at least some lawmakers accused reporters of focusing too much on the guns-in-parks bill.
Capitol Hill Press Corps Chairwoman Andrea Zelinski took offense to those charges.
“Twelve weeks into the legislative session, this was the first time House Republican leaders held a news conference to speak at length about bills they want passed into law,” Zelinski, a reporter with the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post, told The Tennessean.
“Our jobs is to ask questions of public officials.”