By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A measure to eliminate the rights of businesses, schools and universities to bar employees from storing firearms in parked vehicles is headed for a full Senate vote.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 on Tuesday to advance the bill after Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, refused a request to hear from representatives of FedEx Corp. or other large employers that oppose the bill.
“I don’t know that any more testimony is going to change anybody’s mind,” Beavers said.
The original version of the measure sponsored by Sen. Mike Faulk would have applied to any person with a legal firearm, but the Kingsport Republican narrowed the scope of the bill by having it apply only to the state’s 344,000 handgun carry permit holders.
The bill was subsequently expanded by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, to cover anyone with a Tennessee hunting license as long as they are at least 21 years old.
Unlike handgun carry permits, hunting licenses require no training or background check. An AP reporter ordered one online during the committee hearing for $27.
The panel also rejected a proposal by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, to give university presidents the directors of K-12 schools the power to decide whether to allow firearms on campus.
“My amendment preserves that historic prerogative of allowing the chief executive officers of the seats of education to run the facility,” Yager said. “It still allows them to approve that.”
The amendment failed on a 5-3 vote against.
The bill has pitted gun rights advocates against business, higher education and law enforcement groups while Republicans eager to cater to both sides have been caught in the crossfire.
Deb Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said she was disappointed that the concerns of businesses were ignored in the committee, but expressed hope that they will be addressed down the line.
“It still has to go through the full Senate and the full House, so I hope we’ll still be listened to,” Woolley said. “It’s a hard situation when you have two groups with what they presume to be competing rights when they really aren’t.
“This one is not respecting the rights of the private property owners,” she said.
Democratic Sen. Beverly Marrero was the only committee member to vote against the bill. The Memphis Democrat said she didn’t understand what she called “a vigilante kind of mentality here, where if we all have guns and we all walk around heavily armed, then none of us are going to be victims.”
Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville said he had reservations about changes made to the he bill because he considers a vehicle to have the same private property rights as a home.
“I don’t like the fact that we’ve narrowed it and limited it,” said Bell, though he ultimately voted for the bill.