Festivals from Memphis to Bristol are now evaluating the Guns in Parks law, passed by state lawmakers earlier this year, and how it could impact their event. Photo credit: John B. Holden/Morguefile.
Under a law passed earlier this year, people with a concealed-carry permit can take a gun inside a private concert or event, even if event organizers wish to prohibit firearms. That’s the conclusion of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who issued the opinion at the request of state Senator Lee Harris (D–Memphis). Harris opposed the initial legislation making the practice legal. “The Guns in Parks law, once passed, has created confusion for festivals and other large crowd events like Memphis in May that take place in downtown Memphis parks,” says Harris. Slatery’s office declined a request for an interview for this story, offering instead his written opinion on the issue. The opinion could similarly impact the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga and many more. Supporters of the legislation, which include the National Rifle Association (NRA), say it protects an individual’s right to carry and bear arms, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. James Bolden began his career in Memphis law enforcement in 1968, and retired as Memphis police director in 2004. He shares Harris’ concern over the impact the legislation could have on the safety of citizens and police officers. “You could have as many as 500 individuals armed and you not know it, because we have no way of knowing who the good guys are or who the bad guys are,” he says. Harris says the Attorney General’s opinion helps solidify the law’s intent, but also underscores how important it is to pass new legislation that would restore some rights at the local level. “The Legislature’s actions here are clear and unambiguous,” says Harris. “They intended to remove from the counties and municipalities the option to prohibit holders of handgun carry permits from possessing and carrying their guns in these local parks.” Event organizers point out that, in many cases, they are paying to lease public parks for their events, and therefore have the ability to create policies regarding their festivities. Several event organizers across the state have said in published reports they plan to ban guns from their events, even when held in public parks.