- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Schools could ban guns from nearby parks, playgrounds or ball fields by holding just one event there a year, according to a top Republican supporter of a bill to strip local governments of the power to block people with handgun carry permits from being armed in such places.

In a contentious news conference at the legislative office on Thursday, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin argued that the bill does not change current law barring all guns from outdoor where school functions are occasionally held.

Casada said schools that use a park running track, playground or ball field could post a sign banning guns. He disputed that that exception would run contrary to the stated aim of the original bill, which is to remove confusion for permit holders about where they can carry their guns.

“I would only submit that those who want it to be confusing say it’s confusing,” he said.

A separate bill to do away with the ban on the state’s 500,000 permit holders being armed near parks where students hold activities passed the Senate earlier this session, but failed in the House.

Meanwhile, House leaders said they plan to reject a Senate amendment to allow guns at the Capitol complex.

The provision was inserted into the guns-in-parks proposal on the Senate floor Wednesday, and then overwhelmingly approved 26-7.

The change was not part of the version the House passed 65-21 on Monday, so the legislation now goes back to the lower chamber.

“It was poorly drafted and it jeopardizes the entire bill,” House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters Thursday.

The Nashville Republican acknowledged the amendment increases the chance of a veto by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who had expressed concerns about the legislation before the amendment.

Because of the veto possibility, Democrats who oppose the legislation have not decided whether they want to join in stripping the amendment.

House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Stewart of said he’s opposed to having guns in parks, but is even more against them being brought into the Capitol complex where there are sometimes heated debates.

“I’m opposed to having guns in the Legislature where tempers can get hot,” Stewart said. “I think it’s absolutely not an insignificant risk that in the heated exchanges that go on between people that come up to advocate for opposite sides of bills that … somebody could pull out a weapon.”

The GOP news conference included a curious exchange in which Casada refused to acknowledge that an accidental discharge of a firearm in a park is more dangerous to bystanders than other recreational mishaps.

“There’s accidents with bicycles in parks,” Casada said. “Should we outlaw bicycles?”

When challenged whether guns are as safe as bicycles, Casada said they are - as long as they are “used properly.”

Accidents with guns are similar to accidents with bikes or cars, he said.

“They’re called acts of God, they’re beyond our control,” Casada said.

Republican leaders became upset that the gun topics were dominating the press conference, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga alleged that that members of the media were becoming advocates in the debate.

“I don’t think you’re presenting, I think you’re advocating,” he said. “Is this the only thing that’s important to you guys?

Tennessee Capitol Hill Press Corps Chairwoman Andrea Zelinski said that wasn’t the case.

“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,” she said. “Our job is to ask questions of public officials.”


Associated Press writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.

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