The city of Knoxville, Tenn., may no longer sign contracts for gun shows on city property after two future shows are held.
The Knoxville City Council voted 8-1 during its Sept. 24 meeting on a resolution requesting that gun shows no longer be allowed on city property. Authority to implement the change as a policy resides with the city’s administration and thus with the mayor. The current mayor, Madeline Rogero (D), who is leaving office in December, said in the videotaped council meeting that she supports the resolution, and her office would not accept further gun-show contracts. According to media reports, the two mayoral candidates, Indya Kincannon (D) and Eddie Mannis (R), have also agreed to implement the change.
Rex Kehrli, owner of R.K. Shows, told America’s 1st Freedom he believes lawful gun owners are being discriminated against. The resolution affects Chilhowee Park, where R.K. Shows has been exhibiting about four times a year for 11 years (a prior company started exhibiting there in 1987). Kehrli said he was not invited to participate in any discussions about the new resolution despite the positive economic impact he believes his gun shows bring to the area (particularly for hotels and dining establishments) and despite the amount of security he hires to ensure there are no issues.
“Tennessee is one of the most pro-gun states in the union,” said Kehrli. “Hunting is a heritage there. For those that don’t think they have anti-gunners among them, just look at Tennessee. It’s the last place I would have expected this to happen. If gun owners aren’t concerned about this, they certainly should be.”
Knoxville has two remaining gun shows contracted for 2019 at Chilhowee Park, both with Kehrli’s R.K. Shows, which will go forward as per the contracts signed by the city.
Knoxville’s deputy communications director, Fiona McAnally, confirmed the future economic hit for the city. She said in an email that the city charges $7,500 to rent the venue, not including extras such as tables or access to the sound system. By the end of 2019, Knoxville will have held three gun shows, representing at least $22,500 in base rental fees alone. (Two years ago, the city had twice as many gun shows.)
“I think they’re violating a tremendous amount of rights and discriminating against those who believe in the Second Amendment,” Kehrli said. “There is literally zero precedent for problems from this gun show, or nationally from gun shows. This [anti-gun resolution] is just: ‘This feels good, so let’s do it.’”
Kehrli says he will fight the decision and is looking into how to do so.
Other pro-Second Amendment groups are also questioning the legality of Knoxville’s attempt to oust gun shows from public venues while still allowing other types of commercial events. John Harris, a lawyer and the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, told America’s 1st Freedom: “This is as much a First Amendment issue as it is a Second Amendment one. They’re saying they aren’t going to lease to you if you’re an advocate of a certain interest. Imagine if they said they wouldn’t lease to another interest, like an LGBTQ group—there would be lawsuits coming out of the woodwork.” Harris said the Tennessee Firearms Association is working both at the legislative and judicial levels for legal protections for gun owners.
Rob Frost, special counsel and advisor to Knoxville City Council, declined to respond to the First and Second Amendment concerns of pro-gun groups, saying that it is “too early” to see how the new resolution will or will not be carried out by the next mayor.
The new resolution was proposed by Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie, who represents a district in East Knoxville that she said is a “gun zone” with a high rate of violent crime. That district is also home to the Chilhowee Park gun shows. In the meeting, McKenzie said the measure was “not a statement or indictment against legal gun ownership,” but against gun violence. The resolution states that gun shows have become “detrimental and offensive to a large portion of the community” and that the council wants to “discourage any suggestion that the City promotes gun violence.” At the end of the meeting, McKenzie thanked members of the gun-control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America for attending.