The Tennessee Firearms Association is disappointed but not surprised by the decision of the Plaintiff in an NRA funded lawsuit to settle the case by agreeing that “Chilhowee Park” is not a park.
In 2008, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law which made all state parks and federal parks (which were not otherwise restricted) accessible to handgun permit holders — period. While that law originally included locally owned or managed parks, local government officials begged the legislature to give them discretion over the local parks so that in certain circumstances, such as ballparks, the local governments could exercise discretion to limit firearms in such locations.
The Legislature gave the local governments the discretion that they requested. As warned by TFA at the time however, many of the larger local governments abused the discretion and closed the local parks.
In 2015, the Legislature removed the discretion of local governments to restrict firearms possession by handgun permit holders in local parks. Shortly thereafter, the Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion (No. 15-63) that this law applied even if the local government leased the park to third parties or allowed private entities to manage the park.
Despite these changes, Knoxville and other local governments continued to enforce gun bans against handgun permit holders. One of the first major confrontations arose in Knoxville when the state fair came to Chilhowee Park in the fall of 2015. Knoxville threatened to arrest handgun permit holders who attempted to enter Chilhowee Park despite the change in state law.
In response, two lawsuits were filed. One was filed by Tennessee Firearms Association members and is being funded by the Tennessee Firearms Association and is being handled by local attorney Andrew Fox. That lawsuit remains pending despite repeated efforts by Knoxville to argue that citizens have no “standing” (or right) to question in a court of law its decision to ban guns in the park.
The other lawsuit was filed by Pandora Vreeland in circuit court. The Vreeland lawsuit was widely reported as being the NRA’s lawsuit. According to the Circuit Court Clerk in Knox County, there were no motions to dismiss or motions for summary judgment filed challenging this case despite the fact that it has been pending for way over a year. For some unexplained reason, Knoxville did not vigorously argue that the NRA’s plaintiff lacked standing to question the city’s actions. Further, the NRA’s plaintiff never filed any pleadings – after the complaint – asking the court to rule on the legal issue of whether Chilhowee Park is a “park.”
Then, on January 26, 2017, an agreed order was filed in the NRA funded lawsuit which ended that dispute. The settlement agreement states at the very beginning that the “Parties agree that, while Chilhowee Park and Exhibition Center is operated and maintained as a public assembly facility and not a park . . . .” From there, the agreement recites that the parties agree that the city can ban guns in all of the park’s buildings and can even ban guns in the entire park if the park is being used for a ticketed event.
Questions are being raised on social media and on talk radio as to why the plaintiff would have entered into such an agreement after filing a lawsuit which it never appeared to have really pushed hard. Questions such as why would the NRA agree that a publicly owned and funded park is not a park?
Fortunately, for Tennessee’s gun owners, there is a lawsuit that remains pending which the Tennessee Firearms Association and its members fully intend to pursue and have been pursuing through several hotly contested court hearings already.
Fortunately, for Tennessee’s gun owners, it appears that the Vreeland lawsuit directly infringes only the rights of one person in the state of Tennessee – Pandora Vreeland.
If you want to help the Tennessee Firearms Association continue the fight for our rights – including the litigation against the city of Knoxville – please consider joining and supporting the TFA today. If you are not an active member – join today! If you are already a member, considering encouraging others to join and also by making a special contribution to help fund the litigation.