Removal of ‘no guns' signs concerns Loudon residents

A few weeks after the Loudon County Commission voted unanimously to remove signs banning guns from county buildings, some residents who regularly attend local government meetings are expressing their concerns.
"I think there are a lot of people concerned about this," Loudon County resident Shirley Harrison said. She said that in the 35 years she has been attending public meetings she has seen some controversial issues discussed. She is afraid that heated discussions could turn to violent encounters if guns are allowed in the meetings.

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County Commissioner Van Shaver made the motion to remove the signs. He believes the signs should never have been put up in the first place. He said former County Mayor Doyle Arp put up the signs in 2007.
The commission did not change the law, he said. There is no law prohibiting licensed concealed weapon carriers from bringing their guns into public buildings. "The commission only removed the signs," he said.
Shaver said he sees no reason to restrict the rights of citizens, who are legally authorized to carry their weapons in most public places, from carrying weapons in public buildings that are paid for by the tax payers. He also thinks the concerns about increased danger are misguided. "A well-armed society is much safer," he said.

Harrison said she would feel safer if the county placed law enforcement officers at the meetings. "I prefer to depend on the police for protection, not armed citizens," she said.
Harrison also said she fears that attendance at meetings might be reduced if members of the public are afraid to attend. "It's hard enough to get people to come to meetings as it is," she said.
Loudon activist Pat Hunter spoke before commissioners voted to remove the signs. She said she's concerned that the county or its armed residents might be breaking the law.
State law is clear that concealed weapons, except those possessed by law enforcement, are not allowed in school buildings or public buildings where children are present. Because the County Office Building is shared by the school department, carrying guns into a commission meeting held at the building might be illegal. Hunter said she has been asking for the county to request an opinion from the county attorney on the issue. According to Shaver, the county has determined that there is no legal issue with carrying weapons in the County Office Building.
Loudon resident Richard Truitt also spoke before the commission. As a retired armed guard for the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge, he said he has nothing against firearms. He said he knows that public meetings can get confrontational, but he wouldn't be comfortable knowing that his security depends on others sitting next to him at a public meeting.
"If they feel they need the security they should have a sheriff's deputy at the meeting," he said.
Liston Matthews is editor of the Knoxville Gun Rights Examiner Web page. A gun-rights activist since 1971, he was involved in passing the legislation for concealed carry in Tennessee. He applauded the Loudon County Commission for its decision. "I think it was a good idea," he said.

Matthews said gun permit holders have already been vetted by the licensing process and as a group are much more law abiding and less likely to cause trouble than just about any other demographic, including churchgoers, he said. "It's wrong for a government entity to restrict the rights of citizens to protect themselves, particularly if the government does not provide security," he said.