Knxoville Police threaten to arrest Tennessee Handgun Permit Holders
who ask if they can enter Chilhowee park armed
Members of the Tennessee Firearms Association have sued Knoxville claiming that the city illegally banned handgun permit holders from attending the 2015 State Fair that was being held in Chilhowee Park. TFA members claimed that following a change in the law in 2015, local governments like Knoxville lack the legal authority under a new amendment to a state law (TCA 39-17-1311 and TCA 39-17-1314) to prohibit handgun permit holders from carrying their otherwise legally possessed handguns in a public park. The lawsuit seeks to have Knoxville’s gun ban policy declared illegal under state law.
The city has challenged the lawsuit by claiming in a motion to dismiss the complaint that the plaintiffs have not “alleged an actual injury, such as being arrested, fined or even turned away by police …” The city claims that without such actual harm — i.e., being arrested — the plaintiffs, even as Tennessee citizens, have no standing to question whether the city was violating state law.
On September 13, 2016, seven TFA members approached Chilhowee Park near Gate 8 in the early evening to ask at least three different Knoxville police officers stationed there if they would be arrested if they entered the park as handgun permit holders in possession of their firearms. Three times they were told that they would be arrested even after disclosing that they had state issued handgun permits. The incident was recorded and observed by several witnesses. Specifically, Ray and Kimberly Bergeron discussed the matter with Knoxville Police Department’s deputy chief of patrol, Monty Houk, as they stood outside the gate to the fairgrounds.
“It is a travesty that Knoxville apparently did not admit to the trial court that it had established a policy to arrest citizens who have handgun permits and who desired to enter Chilhowee Park so that it became necessasry to have a group of our members go back out to the park with video cameras, witnesses, their handgun permits, their firearms, and purchase tickets just to stand outside the park and ask the Knoxville Police officers stationed there what would happen if they entered Chilhowee Park,” said John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Government actions like this is why so many Tennesseans are increasingly frustrated with local and state government and are searching for alternatives to the traditional, career politicians who think that they are above the law.”
“The courts should intervene and protect the constitutional rights of Tennesseans particularly when the state has by law denied any authority to local governments to ban firearms in public Parks” said Harris. “Further, Tennessee’s Legislature perhaps should expend a little more time making sure that citizens have the capacity to enforce their consittutional rights when infringed by local governments without having to do so from a jail cell.”