New guns-in-cars law has some law enforcement officials uneasy

Some law enforcement officers are less than enthusiastic about a new gun law that quietly took effect last week, reports the Chattanooga TFP. It says Tennessee gun owners may now legally keep loaded firearms in their vehicles even if they don’t have a state-issued handgun-carry permit.

As of July 1, people who are legally able to possess a gun under state and federal law, you can keep a loaded handgun, shotgun or rifle in a car or truck you legally possess.

Previously, only those with state-issued handgun carry permits could legally keep loaded firearms in their vehicles. Those without carry permits could keep unloaded firearms in the vehicle if the ammunition was stored separately.

Proponents hail the measure as an expansion of gun rights and a fairness move for commuters who have no carry permits but are worried about safety, as well as for hunters.

“It’s essentially an extension of the ‘castle doctrine,’ that you can defend your ‘castle,’ … your home, if you feel threatened,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, the Senate sponsor.

The new law, however, does not allow those without permits to carry loaded firearms outside their vehicle on streets or in businesses as permit holders can do.

Bell said the National Rifle Association-backed bill was a logical move, noting that courts “for years have recognized that you have private property rights that are associated with your car.”

But some law enforcement officials have reservations about the change. Col. Tracy Trott, with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, voiced doubts during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this spring.

“I do have concerns as a law enforcement officer for guns to be more readily available in this business,” Trott told lawmakers. “But my concerns are not enough for the administration to ‘flag’ the bill.”

…Chattanooga’s new police chief, Fred Fletcher, was appointed shortly after the bill passed. He has mixed feelings about the law, too.

A former top official in the Austin Police Department, Fletcher said Texas has allowed people to carry “long guns” — shotguns and rifles — for many years and officers “were very familiar and comfortable with that.”

But, Fletcher said Tuesday, Chattanooga “is plagued by a number of violent crimes that involve handguns” and criminal gang members.

“This law will make it easier for people who are up to nefarious purposes to carry a gun, to go commit violence,” Fletcher said. “That’s not a news blast to anybody. If people are allowed to carry guns they will carry them both for good and for ill.”