KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Next Tuesday, Knoxville City leaders will consider a resolution that would end gun shows on city-owned property.
The change includes Chilhowee Park & Exposition Center. A resolution differs from an ordinance. It’s more of a recommendation to the mayor to change current practice, rather than a sweeping policy change.
Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie, representing the city’s 6th district, said Thursday the resolution follows months of discussion, years of ongoing frustration, and protests in the East Knoxville community.
McKenzie’s effort to bring change, she explained, centered around Chilhowee Park, but later expanded city-wide. McKenzie took part in a protest in January along with Moms Demand Action and World United Ministries. “That’s what really put fuel to the fire,” she said.
“When you look at the racial climate across the country today, it’s so important we make sure we’re not having gun shows in neighborhoods with large populations of African American residents, or near churches and schools,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie also saying she owns a gun and isn’t opposed to gun ownership. “That’s not what this resolution is about,” she said. “It’s disingenuous, to have a gun show in place that have been called gun zones in the past.”
A spokesperson for the City of Knoxville said Thursday Mayor Madeline Rogeo supports the initiative.
City legal counsel maintains the city would still be obligated to fulfill existing contracts for shows on city property, if the resolution passes.
So far, we’ve confirmed two upcoming events at Chilhowee Park, one in November and another in December.
Rex Kehrli, president of the company that puts on gun shows throughout East Tennessee including Chilhowee Park, RK Shows, said they’ll be definitely exploring their legal options if change is enacted.
From buying the “Gun Shows of the Smokies” from Mike Holloway between 2007-2008, for an “extraordinary amount” of money, to paying the roughly $14,000 event fee to the city for each show at the park, Kehrli detailed the amount of investment his company has made throughout the years to make the show what it is today.
The argument about schools, to Kehrli, is irrelevant, since he said the events are typically Saturday-Sunday events. He believes they’ll have a good case against the action, and cited an example from San Diego, where he said a judge found any action against events aimed at selling guns/knives was discriminatory with violations of a handful of constitutional rights.
While their company is based in Iowa, Kehrli said Thursday, this action doesn’t speak for the people he’s met in Tennessee.
He pointed out buyers at his shows also have to pass background checks.
Knoxville city mayor candidate Eddie Mannis said Thursday he supports the resolution.
“It’s obvious there are concerns about the use of city property for gun sales by the surrounding neighborhoods,” Mannis said. “I also believe there are private options available that don’t involve the use of city assets.”
Mayoral candidate Indya Kincannon also said she would support the resolution.
Lawrence Williams, Evangelist and Founder of World United Ministries, prays for East Knoxville often.
He’d like to see the perception of his side of town improve, for crime to drop, and jobs to rise.
He believes getting the gun show out of town will help.
“If a young man of color gets pulled over with, or caught with, a gun, he goes to jail for like five years. So we feel like it was very disrespectful for them to be selling guns in our community,” he said, adding, “we’re not against guns. But, we’re against bringing them in our community.”