NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Many Tennessee city and county buildings, parks and buses will either have to buy metal detectors, hire security guards and check people’s bags, or let handgun permit holders bring in their guns, under a law signed Friday by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Opponents of the law, including the cities of Nashville and Knoxville and gun control advocates, contend that it gives local officials bad choices. It also threatens local governments with expensive lawsuits by groups like the National Rifle Association on behalf of anyone who feels slighted by local gun control actions, a “giveaway to the gun lobby,” according to the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
The NRA has said the law holds local governments responsible for keeping people safe, and ensures law-abiding citizens don’t unintentionally violate local restrictions.
Haslam’s office said Friday that the new requirements allow enforcement of a decades-old law pre-empting local governments from regulating guns, except in certain instances. Haslam has previously mentioned that a veto could easily be overridden with a simple majority vote of lawmakers.
Haslam has said at least one part of the bill is necessary to fix a 2015 law allowing guns in public parks. Tennessee officials have feared a state attorney general’s interpretation of the 2015 law would mean guns couldn’t be banned at Tennessee Titans football games and Nashville Predators hockey games.
“This bill also leaves to local governments the ultimate decision of whether to prohibit firearms in local government buildings, and the new provisions in this bill give local governments and their permittees more control over security at large entertainment venues,” Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said in an email.
Critics worry that the law signed Friday could force Nashville to allow guns at its main bus station, Music City Central, and on buses. Both are used by thousands of school children. Lawmakers voted multiple times not to exempt transit facilities from the additional security requirements.
“Our concern is for the safety of our traveling public, a large percentage of which are school age children,” Nashville Mayor Megan Barry wrote in a letter to Haslam earlier this month.
Sen. Jeff Yarbro, A Nashville Democrat, questioned whether the law would create a conflict at the bus station because another state law says it’s a felony to bring guns into a facility used for school purposes.
The bill’s House and Senate sponsors have given opposing answers about whether the law would apply to buses.
Adding the security features at transit stations and on buses could cost the four large urban public transit systems $3.8 million up front and $36 million annually, and upend bus scheduling, according to the Tennessee Public Transit Association.
Rep. William Lamberth, a Cottontown Republican, has said the law he sponsored ensures that guns actually aren’t getting into places where local governments prohibit them.
The new law exempts some local facilities, including health and mental health facilities; Department of Children Services offices; libraries; schools; parks used by schools; buildings where judicial proceedings take place; buildings that hold law enforcement agencies; and Head Start facilities.
The law, which addresses local government facilities, does not address state buildings, including the Tennessee Capitol, where non-law enforcement guns are prohibited.
Visitors at the Capitol complex must pass through metal detectors at the entrances.