Legal Corner: Guns Allowed in Public Parks, Except When Children Are Present

Keith Dennen, Bone, McAllester, Norton

November, 2009

Last year, the Tennessee General Assembly debated whether people who have permits should be allowed to carry handguns in public parks. In May 2009, the General Assembly passed a law allowing handguns in public parks. That law went into effect on September 1, 2009. If you have a carry permit, you can carry a handgun in a public park in Tennessee. However, as the old saying goes, “every rule has an exception.”

First, the new law allows a city or county to ban guns in parks that it owns or operates. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1311(d). To do this, the city or county legislative body must simply pass a resolution banning handguns and post a sign at the park’s entrance.

Second, the law applies only to parks “owned or operated” by a city or county. If a private organization, such as the Beech Community Association, owns the park, then the law still bans handguns even though the park is privately owned, but yet is publicly used.

Third, the law did not repeal Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1309. That law bans handguns in any public park or recreational facility during the time when the park or facility is being used for a school activity. This ban applies even if a sign has not been erected – the presence of the students for a “school” activity is enough. Thus, if a school baseball team is practicing on a baseball field in a public park – no guns are allowed.

These exceptions create questions. Those questions include:

The moral of the story is that you may have a carry permit, but you may not be allowed to carry in a public park.

The Tennessee Attorney General has even issued an opinion on this question – Opinion No. 09-129.