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Kingston explores banning guns in city parks

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By The Staff

By JENNIFER RAYMOND

jraymond@roanecounty.com

The right to bear arms, in public parks.

Starting Sept. 1, permit holders will be allowed to carry their loaded guns into parks.

The Tennessee General Assembly recently passed the law, and now municipalities will have the right to either accept or opt out of this law.

The Kingston City Council discussed this option at Tuesday night's meeting.

Councilwoman Teresa Ferguson brought the topic before council and is in favor of opting out of the law.

“We don't need this in our city,” Ferguson said.

She added, why fix something if it isn't broken.

Councilman Brant Williams, owner of Frontier Firearms, feels passionately about not opting out of the law.

“They're just isn't any logic to it,” Williams said.

Williams added that if 100 permit holders were selected at random and backgrounds checks were done, they would be “clean as a whistle.”

He added that this law applies to permit holders, and laws are already in place regarding handguns and criminals.

“We have law after law prohibiting criminals from carrying a handgun in a park or even owning a handgun,” Williams said.

In passing this resolution, Williams said it would, in effect, make a law-abiding citizen a criminal.

Williams added that it would take away a permit holder's right to self-defense.

“We shouldn't strip that right from human beings,” he said.

Williams added that law enforcement officers have that same right and if this resolution is passed they would be the only ones permitted to carry a gun in parks.

Mayor Troy Beets, who is a permit holder, said he doesn't compare himself to a law enforcement officer, even though he said he is licensed and has gone through training with his handgun.

“That does not give me judgment or training on when to pull my weapon in self defense,” Beets said.

Kevin McClure, who is not in support of the resolution, fired back, “What knowledge do you need to know when someone attacks you?”

Councilman Norman Sugarman said the places this resolution would restrict permit holders from carrying a firearm, like forests, parks, walking trails, waterways, greenways, campgrounds and other similar public places, are the places where many crimes occur.

Councilman Don White, also a permit holder, agreed that if his wife is walking the walking trails, he wants her to be able to defend herself.

“I think she oughta have the right, whether she shoots him or uses it to threaten him,” White said if someone wanted to harm her.

Ferguson said her main concern is the parks and the safety of the children. She added that the council could  focus on the city parks and only place a restriction on those areas.

She cited an example where a permit holder's gun could accidentally go off around children.

“You'd be amazed how many people with permits carry guns on city property,” Williams said.

Sugarman agreed that maybe an agreement can be looked at between the two differing opinions.

Beets suggested looking at restricting guns from large events held in the city, such as the Fourth of July.

Kingston Police Chief Jim Washam said that two people were pulled aside during Saturday's celebration because they were carrying a weapon. Both people were permit holders.

One man's gun fell out of his backpack and freaked everybody out, Washam said. And the other person had it on them.

“Enforcement is going to be the key to it,” Washam said.

He added that at all city events, if someone is spotted with a gun, they are stopped and it is determined if they are a permit holder.

Washam said he has mixed feelings about the law.

He said he does have a concern with allowing guns in city parks during large events.

There was some discussion however, that even with the newly passed law, there might be restrictions when it comes to events.

“I'd feel much better if the events were covered,” Washam said. “We do have a lot of kids running around.”

Beets said he understands the reluctance of allowing permit holders to carry their guns at public events, such as the Fourth of July, sporting events where people become passionate and where alcohol is present.

“Right now, I could split myself and go either way,” Beets said.

The council will discuss the resolution again at Tuesday's city council meeting at 7 p.m.