Guns allowed in Lenoir City parks
Greg Wilkerson News Herald

Lenoir City leaders decided not to opt out of a state law allowing handguns to be carried in city parks.

City Council members had debated the issue in recent meetings and a final resolution was presented to the board Monday night, which would have banned handguns at the Lee Russell athletic fields and at the city's pool if passed. The resolution died because of a lack of a second motion.

"I supported this resolution whole-heartedly," Mayor Matt Brookshire said. "I did not expect it to pass."

City Council Member Bobby Johnson had expressed a desire to have guns banned at all city parks at previous meetings, but said he was swayed to support the resolution based on phone calls he received from citizens in the community. He made a motion to approve the resolution but no other members of the council were willing to share in his support, evidenced by complete silence as the mayor called for a second.

Two citizens spoke on the issue during the meeting. Victor Johnson and Tom Harvey, both of Lenoir City, asked the council to continue allowing guns to be carried by permit holders. "If you can ban guns in different areas, why not just put ban-gun signs on all the banks and they won't get robbed," Harvey said. Being in the survey business, he said there have been several times he felt safer by having his gun while working.

The issue was addressed in August by the city's Parks and Recreation Department Advisory Board, which presented an opinion to the city council in favor of opting out of the state law by a vote of 4-2. "We support whatever the council decides," said Steve Harrelson, the department's director. "It became a hot issue all over the state so we became compelled to address it." Harrelson said there were many factors in the advisory board's decision including a concern in regard to firearms being present at organized sporting events. 

Across the state about 70 cities and counties have opted out of the state law and decided not to allow guns in parks. "It's an absolute non-issue to me," said Zane Ardary who lives on a houseboat at the marina in Lenoir City Park. Ardary said the law has little impact either way because people will continue to bring guns into parks even if a sign were to be put up saying it is against the law. "We've never met an objectionable person in this park," he said.

City leaders specifically mentioned the Town Creek Greenway as an area where there may be a concern for safety, though they stressed the walking trail is safe for use. "Just because we make a law against carrying guns in parks, doesn't mean there are no guns in parks," said Pamela Kaye, a county resident who said she uses the greenway several times a week. "I do have a legal permit to carry and I believe in our second amendment rights. I'm upset that it can be taken away from us."

Kaye said she feels safe on the trail because of the friendly people she meets there and the presence of officers on bicycles. She said she has also taken self-defense classes and doesn't carry her gun with her on the greenway. She also said she doesn't use the trail after dusk. "My concern is our rights are being whittled away from us," she said. "I feel safe in Lenoir City. This is a good place to be."

Brookshire said he doesn't expect the issue to come up again because there isn't support for a ban among the council members.