Gun Free Playdate at the Gun Free Capitol


April 21, 2015


 Gun-Free Playdate at the State Capitol


Parents and kids gather with toys, snacks, and crafts in the halls of the Capitol hoping to urge Governor Haslam to veto controversial HB995 “gun in parks” bill


Nashville – On Monday April 20, a group of concerned Tennessee families gathered in the state Capitol armed not with weapons, but with picnic gear.  They spread out blankets and brought crafts, matchbox cars, balls, and snacks.  Kids, ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years old, made signs, wrote postcards and played foursquare and hopscotch and even a little stickball. Their laughter echoed in the marble hallways and drew attention from Capitol staffers.

11133838_10207143340008665_1286259308311120975_nWhy would these families choose to come to the Capitol for a playdate instead of a park? Because if the Governor signs House Bill 995, there will no longer be any gun free parks in Tennessee. Tennessee cities will be stripped of the authority to prohibit firearms from their local parks, many of which (in cities like Nashville) border and are used daily by public schools, removing the option of gun free parks for families though over 60 municipalities (including all major cities and many suburbs) chose to remain gun free via the opt out provision in current Tennessee law.


However, firearms are prohibited throughout the state Capitol complex, 11146253_10207143134043516_3509768677248196731_nincluding the statehouse and all legislative office buildings.  Signs prohibiting weapons are posted throughout all legislative buildings and all visitors are required to submit to multiple levels of security including metal detectors and bag searches to prohibit weapons on the premises.

An amendment to HB995 was proposed in the Senate to allow permit holders to carry guns in the Capitol complex but this was rejected by the House due to the costs associated with adding officers to check permits.  Not only have there been no provisions made to increase security or add officers to check permits in public park but to save money, state lawmakers decided not to remove the signs prohibiting guns from local parks even though the signs will be unenforceable. This creates a potentially disastrous and legally confusing situation.

934826_10206992941248790_5417713761672234103_n“We have a number of issues with this bill.  First and foremost, mayors, police departments, sheriffs, parks directors, and school boards have been very opposed to this bill from the beginning,” explained mother of two Beth Joslin Roth, Policy Director for The Safe Tennessee Project and one of the event organizers.  “Many of our public schools in Nashville, including my kids’ schools, are adjacent to parks that they use daily for both sanctioned school activities as well as unofficial school gatherings.  My son asked me ‘what will happen if someone is in the park with a gun at dismissal.  Will the school go on lockdown?  Will a teacher have to go ask them if they have a permit? Or will they dismiss us and hope for the best?’  No one seems to have a clear cut answer to these questions. We think it’s unfair that that students, parents, and school administrators will have to worry about these issues while lawmakers choose to keep guns out of their workplace.”


“My family frequents our city’s many parks to play and to attend the variety of wonderful events held within them.  The thought that our safety could be legally compromised by allowing someone to bring a firearm into a park is staggering to me,” explained Christine Pulle, mom of two young children.  “If our state legislators are against having guns in their work place, but are okay with them in my family’s play space – despite our local legislation attempting to prevent them – then we will start playing in the Capitol where we can be safe.”

“As a parent my job is to keep my child safe. I had hoped that was also the job of the people elected to represent us,” said mom Telisha Cobb, Community Outreach Director of the Safe Tennessee and one of the event organizers .  “But clearly that is not the case. If they force our local government to allow guns in parks then I will continue bringing my child to the Capitol to play, where guns are not allowed.”

11150988_10206365754919853_4136278156804413764_n“Yesterday I felt so safe while I watched my children play in the state capitol building hallway just outside the governor’s office,” said Molly Reynold Maher, mom of two kids who attend schools that use public parks everyday.  “Everyone in that building has had their ID checked, their purse checked, AND have gone through a metal detector.  If guns are allowed in parks, I have a feeling that my children and I will be spending many a summer day back in the safe halls of the governor’s office.  It must be nice to feel that safe and secure everyday.”

“I really wish that our legislature would start caring more about things like our children and the poor than about guns and getting re-elected,” said father of two and attorney Robb Bigelow.  “I suppose it is not surprising from a group of individuals who turns down federal funds for Insure Tennessee and only cares about ‘local’ government when it benefits them.”


“My children attend public schools here in Nashville that share space with public parks They play and get their exercise daily in these parks,” Maher continued.  “If they were in private school this would not be an issue as the private schools would not allow guns on their property.  So is that the only answer?  Do we have to pay for private school in order to insure that our children can play in a gun free green space?”

The controversial bill has passed both the House and Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk.  He will have 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it, or allow it to go into law without his signature.  Even if he vetoes the bill, the Republican supermajority could override the veto.  But, these citizens are undeterred and vow to continue to fight the bill.

11150148_10207028101807782_1273312407120161820_nThe CDC currently ranks Tennessee 9th in nation for accidental shootings.  Williamson County Representative Glen Casada recently referred to accidental shootings as “acts of God” and stated that guns were no more of a danger in parks than bicycles.


“We are urging concerned citizens to contact the Governor at 615-741-2001.  He has been outspoken in his opposition to this bill, even when he was the mayor of Knoxville,” Roth said.  “This isn’t only an issue that affects parks that schools use.  If this bill passes, it will affect all public parks even those where festivals and concerts like Live on the Green or the 4th of July Celebration, Memphis in May, Boomsday in Knoxville – events that happen at night and where alcohol is sold.  It would also apply to our zoo and the Centennial Sportsplex.  If the Governor is consistent and vetoes the bill, the legislature can override it but they’d do so against the will of mayors, city commissioners, law enforcement, the Department of Education, school boards, school administrators, Tennessee citizens, and their own Governor.   If they think that is a good idea, it certainly speaks volumes about their legislative priorities.”


Images are available for use.  If you’d like a larger version of an image, please email us.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Meade

The Safe Tennessee Project is a non-partisan, volunteer based organization dedicated to addressing the epidemic of gun violence in Tennessee through gun safety education, community outreach and effective policy advocacy.

Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @SafeTenn