By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Leaders in the Tennessee Statehouse are hoping for what they call a reasonable solution to a legislative fight over a bill seeking to guarantee employees the right to store firearms in cars parked at work.
But not everyone is convinced that cooler heads will prevail over the issue that has Republicans torn between their loyalties to gun rights advocates and the business community.
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry “doesn’t have any hope” that there will be an obvious way to bridge competing interests between gun and property rights advocates, said Bill Ozier, the group’s chairman.
“We’re preparing for the fight again,” he said. “We’re not very optimistic.”
The measure introduced this spring would have allowed anyone to store a firearm in their vehicle at work. The proposal was later whittled down to apply to the state’s 376,000 handgun carry permit holders. But large employers like FedEx and Volkswagen balked at giving up control over whether guns were kept in their lots.
The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that gives some legal cover to gun-carry permit holders who get caught with a firearm on posted property, reports WPLN. It’s not a “get out of jail free” card, but it gives an out-of-bounds gun carrier a legal excuse.
Representative Jeremy Faison, a Republican from Cosby, says his bill is supposed to cover inadvertent slip-ups – you can say you didn’t see the sign saying “No Guns Allowed.” Even at a university.
“You brought up the University of Tennessee. This is not saying it’s OK to have a gun there. It’s saying, you have a defense, should you have had a gun.”
Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Nashville later called the measure a dangerous bill.
“You know, you could actually carry a gun here, to the legislature, and if it was discovered on you, you’d just say, ‘I forgot I had it in my pocket,’ and they really… They gave ’em an out, there.”
The Senate companion piece is still in Senate Judiciary Committee, but it could move out to the Senate floor easily — the bill’s Senate sponsor, Mae Beavers, chairs the Judiciary Committee.
The bill (HB3499) took on additional importance later Thursday morning, when Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told a business group that a “guns in parking lots” bill won’t pass this year. Property owners had fought that measure, which would have forced them to let employees keep their firearms in a locked car on the employer’s parking lot.
The bill passed the House 67-22-1 with an amendment (pdf) that rewrites it. The new version says a handgun carry permit holder has an “affirmative defense” to being charged with “carrying a firearm for the purpose of going armed.”
…The sponsor, Faison, explains what the bill is intended to do:
“First of all, if you’re a licensed permit holder, and you have a gun, and you were not supposed to have it in a place, that was posted – you didn’t see the posting — and for whatever reason it was found that you had a gun. And no nefarious things were happening, you hadn’t broke the law any other way, but you happened to have a gun there. We’re just saying that you have a defense, an affirmative defense, in the state of Tennessee.”
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A coalition of business and law enforcement groups is urging lawmakers to abandon a bill that would allow employees to store guns in their vehicles at work, calling the proposal a “major infringement on private property rights.”
The letter, which was sent to all 132 lawmakers on Thursday, said the legislation aims to curtail the rights of private property owners by “forcing them to allow firearms to be carried onto their premises — even if the property owner objects.”
While the legislative website describes the legislation as applying to “individuals licensed to carry,” the bill itself makes no reference to state-issued handgun carry permits, meaning it could apply to any gun owner in the state.
“The proposed law is a major infringement on private property rights,” the letter said. “Supporters of this legislation argue that this enhances individual rights, but you cannot expand rights for one person by restricting the rights of another.”
Supporters of the guns in parking lots measure include the Tennessee Firearms Association, which has urged its members to lean on lawmakers not to allow the “employee safe commute” bill to be pushed aside.
The association issued a release Thursday that said the House leadership is seeking to kill the bill to “appease the big business … big money investors in House leadership.”
“Sadly for conservatives, this support is apparently based more on Chicago style influence peddling for dollars rather than supporting bills based on conservative and constitutional principles that directly impact the citizens,” the release said.
Previous attempts to allow guns on college campuses have drawn heavy resistance from the state’s higher education system, while the guns in parking lots measure has been vehemently opposed by business interests.
The Tennessee Bankers Association and the Hospital Alliance of Tennessee are among the 18 entities in the letter, which also includes the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Senate version of the proposal is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee next week, while the companion bill has been stuck in a House subcommittee since early last month.
Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga is proposing a competing bill that would narrow eligibility to “employees who possess a valid handgun carry permit.”
Rep. Eddie Bass, the sponsor of the original House proposal, said he hasn’t talked to McCormick, but the Prospect Democrat said he just wants “the best bill for the people.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters later Thursday that he expects a compromise to be reached on the issue.
“It will be a compromise that protects property rights, and at the same time allows law-abiding, handgun permit carrying people to take their guns in places that seem legitimate,” said the Blountville Republican.
Read SB3002 at http://capitol.tn.gov.