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Parks Lawsuit Against City Of Knoxville TN Gains Standing*

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 8:54
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By Liston Matthews

Chilhowee Park in Knoxville TennesseeChilhowee Park in Knoxville Tennessee : Gangsters are unlikely to honor NO GUNS signs, either. AmmoLand Gun NewsAmmoLand Gun News

Tennessee – -( Why would the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) support a lawsuit against the City of Knoxville over the weapons ban at Chilhowee Park? Why go to all the trouble and expense?

Why stir up this trouble, when all the City is asking citizens to do is refrain from carrying weapons into Chilhowee Park at any time, including during the Fair?

A park is not a park you see, If its name begins with Chilhowee!

Some ask, shouldn’t the City be able to implement such bans? After all, it belongs to the City.

Hold on there, not so fast. Let’s have a short lesson in American Government-

  1. The states (former colonies) came together to form the Federal Government, and the states charter local governments.
  2. Cities, towns and counties are created by the states, and are subject to state law.
  3. The City of Knoxville is a subdivision of the State of Tennessee, and Tennessee law is superior to Knoxville City Ordinances.

Now, a short history lesson: Black CodesBlack Codes

Historically, since the reconstruction era, state and local governments have imposed and expanded bans on who may carry a weapon and where weapons might be carried. The reconstruction bans in the South, known as Black Codes, were primarily rewrites of ante-bellum Slave Codes. They were directed only at freed black citizens. Over the passage of time, these codes were determined to be unconstitutional, so they were re-written to include everyone.

The net result was that the black letter law said that no one was allowed to carry a defensive firearm. However, the sheriff in the county I lived in when I first came to Tennessee (1982) knew that I carried one; I had the wink and nod from him.

Meanwhile, in Knoxville, a weapons carry ban was implemented in 1962, during the height of the Jim Crow era. Some believe this was aimed squarely at black citizens.

Fast forward to 1987. Florida passed the first “modern” shall-issue handgun permitting system, setting the tone for such laws to eventually roll out over the entire United States. Tennessee’s shall-issue permitting system began in the early 1990’s.

In the years since shall-issue was passed in Tennessee, more and more spaces have been removed from prohibited zone restrictions. Those include convenience stores, churches, parking lots, and in 2009, parks.

In 2009, state parks were removed as prohibited zones, but the bill passed that year allowed local governments to opt-out and maintain their parks prohibitions. The City of Knoxville and the Town of Farragut both opted out; Knox County conformed to the state model.

I was there to witness Knox County, led by Commissioner (now Senator) Richard Briggs, M.D., adopt the state model.

I also was at the Knoxville City Council meeting, when Mayor (now Governor) Bill Haslam seemed, in a rather long speech, to make the case for conforming to the state model; but then urged the City Council to continue with their ban! The City Council agreed, and retained their decades old ban.

In 2015, Tennessee revisited the parks carry law, and removed local governments’ opt-out power.

In July 2015, the Tennessee Attorney General, in response to a query from State Senator Lee Harris, said that –

After the enactment of Chapter 250, municipal and county governments no longer have the option of prohibiting the possession of handguns carried by individuals with valid handgun carry permits in public parks and other recreational facilities.

Now, back to the Chilhowee Park lawsuit: Gavel and GunSupreme Court’d Decision on “Straw Purchases”

I became aware of the continued ban for permit holders in Chilhowee Park around the time of the 2015 Fair. I contacted Chief Rausch of the Knoxville Police Department. He referred me to Scott Suchomski of the Fair, who informed me that the ban was to continue in force.

I did not want to risk arrest and jail, so I chose not to go to the Fair in 2015. My co-plaintiff, Kimberly Bergeron went to the fair, but remained unarmed.

In February of 2016, through the sponsorship of TFA, and with attorney Andrew Fox, we filed suit against the City of Knoxville, the mayor, Chief Rausch, and the Fair.

The City asserted that we did not have standing, since neither plaintiff had been arrested, threatened with arrest, etc. This led to a hearing on August 22, 2016 to determine our standing. At the hearing, Michael S. Kelley, the city’s attorney stated-

…The person would come to the fair, … , they would be searched, and they would be told you can’t come in because you have a handgun. If they’d done that, they’d have standing… (emphasis added)

The judge heard both sides, then informed us he would take it under advisement, and render an opinion.

In late August, a plan came together to take action that would foreclose even the argument that we Plaintiffs in the lawsuit had no standing. A group of us would go to the fair, and someone armed would get turned away. That is exactly what we did.

We went to the fair. After some talk with another KPD officer about a person with a carry permit entering the Fair while armed, I sought Chief Houk to accompany me to the public sidewalk near a Fair entrance, where those with carry permits who were armed waited. He informed the group that anyone who attempted to enter with a handgun would be subject to arrest, as reported by this article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Where do we go from here?

Now that standing has been established, we get to the meat of the suit. Is Chilhowee Park a public park or other recreational facility?

We believe so. We believe the plain language reading of the statute strongly supports our position:


(H). (exception) Persons possessing a handgun, who are authorized to carry the handgun pursuant to § 39-17-1351, while within or on a public park, natural area, historic park, nature trail, campground, forest, greenway, waterway, or other similar public place that is owned or operated by the state, a county, a municipality, or instrumentality of the state, a county, or municipality;

We believe the Attorney General’s opinion referenced above strongly supports our position:

Reading Chapter 250 in light of prior law leaves little room for doubt that the legislature intended to remove from counties and municipalities the option they had before the effective date of Chapter 250 to prohibit holders of valid handgun carry permits from possessing handguns in parks and other recreational facilities owned by those governmental entities. By repealing subsections(c), (d), and (e) and removing the companion language in subsection (b)(1)(H), the legislature clearly and unambiguously removed any option or authority that counties and municipalities formerly had to prohibit a handgun carry permit holder from possessing a handgun in a park or other recreational facility.

We hope the Court agrees. . .

You can help in this and future legal endeavors by joining TFA, then making a members only donation at TFA’s website.

*Standing to sue, in law, the requirement that a person who brings a suit be a proper party to request adjudication of the particular issue involved. . . .

About the Author:

Liston Matthews is a longtime firearms civil rights advocate in Knoxville, TN. He is involved with the Tennessee Firearms Association, and executive director of the Farragut Gun Club. Visit his website at

This post Parks Lawsuit Against City Of Knoxville TN Gains Standing* appeared first on Shooting Sports News .


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