Loudon resident, backed by NRA,sues Knoxville over Chilhowee Park gun ban
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
Loudon County resident Pandora Vreeland is suing Knoxville over the city’s decision to ban guns at Chilhowee Park during the Tennessee Valley Fair.
”Despite the unequivocal mandate of the Tennesee State Legislature that law-abiding responsible citizens be permitted to carry firearms in public, provided they possess a valid permit, and the statutory guarantee that such carrying be permitted in public parks, the City of Knoxville, through Mayor Rogero, has prohibited law-abiding, responsible, permitted citizens such as Plaintiff, from carrying their firearms in Chilhowee Park,” the suit states.
The National Rifle Association is backing the suit, filed Wednesday morning in Knox County Circuit Court. It seeks to overturn the ban.
“The Mayor and city of Knoxville are in clear violation of Tennessee law,” said Lacey Biles, director of NRA State and Local Affairs. “The 5 million members of the NRA stand in full support of the plaintiff and look forward to a positive resolution.”
Nashville attorney Lela Hollabaugh is representing Vreeland.
“We believe state law is clear and Knoxville is violating that law with regard to Chilhowee Park. We hope to have the issue addressed in court soon,” Hollabaugh said.
Vreeland is a resident of Tellico Village and a regular speaker at Loudon County government meetings. Her husband Jim Vreeland, a retired police officer, said he had planned to attend the fair until he learned guns were banned.
According to the lawsuit, Pandora Vreeland could not safely attend the event or other events that might be held at Chilhowee Park because due to her age she is a target of would-be assailants.
“Plaintiff however understands and believes that general interest events at ‘gun-free’ zones are uniquely susceptible to violent crime,” the suit said.
Gov. Bill Haslam in April signed into law a bill that allows handgun carry permit holders to bring guns into parks. After several lawmakers questioned whether the law applied to event centers, an opinion issued by the Attorney General’s office in July said the law applied to most municipally-owned recreational venues.
Rogero disagreed, saying Chilhowee Park was not a park as defined under the law. She has stated her desire for the Legislature to provide clarity on the issue.
The suit references a 2013 Court of Criminal Appeals case that held Chilhowee Park is a public park. During that case Knox County Director of Public Facilities Bob Polk testified that he managed Chilhowee Park, a Knox County public park.
City spokesman Eric Vreeland, no relation to the plaintiff, said he could not comment on pending litigation.
The Tennessee Firearms Association has stated its intention to file suit following the decision by Rogero. That suit has not been filed yet.
Bill Johns, founder of the Farragut Gun Club, said his organization has been communicating with the NRA on the issue.
“The Farragut Gun Club fully supports Ms. Vreeland in her effort to assure that the rights and the personal safety of responsible gun owners are not infringed by unilateral interpretation of state law by local officials,” Johns said.
State Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, also chairman of the Knox County delegation, has requested in a Sept. 11 letter an opinion on the matter from Attorney General Herbert Slatery. Slatery has not yet responded.