New law could al­low guns at Nashville bus hub used by school stu­dents

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JONATHAN MATTISE

NASHVILLE, TENN. | Po­lice and se­cu­rity guards keep watch as thou­sands of chil­dren zigzag through Nashville’s down­town bus hub each morn­ing and af­ter­noon, catch­ing buses be­tween home and school.

Bar­ring some court chal­lenge this month, the au­thor­i­ties likely won’t be alone in car­ry­ing lethal fire­power through the Mu­sic City Cen­tral sta­tion. A law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam that takes ef­fect July 1 will force Nashville to let peo­ple carry loaded guns there and po­ten­tially even on the city buses thou­sands of stu­dents ride each day.

The law gives lo­cal gov­ern­ments an ul­ti­ma­tum: Ei­ther let hand­gun per­mit-hold­ers carry guns or in­vest in metal de­tec­tors and se­cu­rity guards to in­spect bags wher­ever peo­ple en­ter pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

But tran­sit of­fi­cials say it’s lo­gis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to add metal de­tec­tors at sta­tions and se­cure all city buses. Even try­ing to ap­ply air­port-style se­cu­rity to a pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem would cost mil­lions and cre­ate com­muter chaos, they say.

The law has of­fi­cials in Ten­nessee’s large cities fear­ing for chil­dren’s lives, but Re­pub­li­can state law­mak­ers who ap­proved the change in a largely party­line vote said the law en­ables peo­ple to prop­erly de­fend them­selves.

Both groups point to the same crime to prove their point: a shoot­ing at the bus hub last year that wounded four teenagers and sent mid­dle school­ers and other trav­el­ers scram­bling for cover.

The pol­icy is another ex­am­ple of con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers from ru­ral dis­tricts re­strict­ing more lib­eral poli­cies in ur­ban ar­eas. Ten­nessee’s Re­pub­li­can-led leg­is­la­ture also nixed or­di­nances in Nashville and Mem­phis this year that would have discouraged crim­i­nal charges for pos­sess­ing small amounts of mar­i­juana.

The Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion said the law holds lo­cal gov­ern­ments re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing cit­i­zens safe. Op­po­si­tion mostly has come from Knoxville and Nashville, where school board chair Anna Shepherd said the law puts “the NRA ahead of the safety of our stu­dents, and that’s just not right.”

“We have 88,000 stu­dents in our school dis­trict. We can’t af­ford to have one ac­ci­den­tally shot. Just not even one,” Ms. Shepherd said.

Adding the se­cu­rity fea­tures at sta­tions and on buses could cost the state’s four large ur­ban pub­lic tran­sit sys­tems — Nashville, Knoxville, Mem­phis and Chattanooga — $3.8 mil­lion upfront and $36 mil­lion an­nu­ally, and make ef­fi­cient con­nec­tions im­pos­si­ble by forc­ing rid­ers to show up an hour or more in ad­vance to get through se­cu­rity, said Ja­son Spain, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ten­nessee Pub­lic Tran­sit As­so­ci­a­tion.

Nashville’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tran­sit Au­thor­ity is still re­view­ing the law to de­ter­mine how best to com­ply, said spokes­woman Amanda Clel­land. Nashville Mayor Me­gan Barry and Knoxville Mayor Made­line Rogero say the law leaves them with only bad op­tions.

The ul­ti­ma­tum could con­flict with ex­ist­ing state law, which makes it a felony to bring guns into a fa­cil­ity used for school pur­poses. It also in­vites law­suits, crit­ics say, by giv­ing groups like the NRA stand­ing to sue for triple at­tor­ney’s fees if they be­lieve a lo­cal gov­ern­ment wrongly barred some­one from car­ry­ing guns.

“We can­not have a sit­u­a­tion where some­one has a le­gal right to sue and be granted at­tor­ney’s fees and dam­ages to walk into a bus sta­tion, and also be con­victed of a crim­i­nal of­fense for the very same ac­tion,” said Sen. Jeff Yar­bro, Nashville Demo­crat.

Be­tween 4,500 and 5,600 stu­dents use Nashville’s free city bus pass pro­gram. All pub­lic high school­ers and some stu­dents in grades 5 through 8 qual­ify.

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