Knoxville settles lawsuit over guns at city park

Knoxville officials will relax the gun ban at the city’s Chilhowee Park under an agreement to resolve a pending lawsuit, reports the News Sentinel. Under the deal, there will be no ban except when a scheduled event is underway at the park.

“If somebody wants to avail themselves of the facility on an average day (when no events are scheduled), it’s fine for them to have a handgun,” city Law Director Charles Swanson said Friday. “Otherwise, no guns will be allowed.”

Loudon County resident Pandora Vreeland sued the city in October 2015, saying she was afraid to attend that year’s Tennessee Valley Fair at the park when she learned she wouldn’t be allowed to carry her gun into the park — even though she holds a valid carry permit. The city bans guns from being carried at the fair or any other ticketed event there.

Vreeland and her attorney claimed the ban violated state law, as laid out in a July 2015 opinion by Attorney General Herbert Slatery. Changes to the law that year overrode any city and county ordinances barring permit holders from bringing guns to local parks. The attorney general determined that change applies even during ticketed events such as a concert.

The city insisted the Chilhowee property off Prosser Road isn’t a park — despite its name — but a “public assembly facility” not managed by the Parks and Recreation Department and not open to the general public during special events and that the law therefore doesn’t apply.

Under the settlement filed Thursday in Vreeland’s lawsuit, the city sticks to its guns that Chilhowee isn’t a park — despite its name — but admits the city “has historically allowed the public to access and use the outdoor facilities … when those facilities are not leased or otherwise in use for an event.” Swanson said that means permit holders who want to visit the site at those times can feel free to bring their guns.

…The settlement doesn’t affect a separate lawsuit filed last year by Kimberly Bergeron, a 57-year-old grandmother and permit holder threatened with arrest if she brought her gun to the fair last year. That lawsuit remains pending, with no hearings immediately set.

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