House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters Thursday that Republican leadership was continuing to work with “all interested parties” on guns-in-lots legislation, a group she says does not include the consistently boisterous Tennessee Firearms Association.
Speaking at her weekly press conference, the Nashville Republican said her caucus is still searching for the fine line between two of the party’s primary concerns.
“This caucus is dedicated to gun rights, the Second Amendment,” she said. “We are also dedicated to property rights. And we’re going to merge those until we get to a point where we’re satisfied, or we will not. We’ll continue to work.”
Throughout the ongoing debate over the legislation, which would allow workers to store guns in their cars on company lots, the TFA has appeared to be a player, throwing grenades via press release and testifying before a House committee in support of the bill. But Harwell said they’re not in the loop on negotiations about the details of the bill.
“As far as I know, the association that reflects the Second Amendment rights in this state is the National Rifle Association, and we have had ongoing discussions with them,” she said.
The NRA’s chief lobbyist in Tennessee was not available for comment at press time.
The executive director of the TFA, John Harris, told TNReport his association is working with other organizations, including tea party groups in the state, whom he says have made the issue a top priority. He said the TFA has been in contact with the NRA and is working with their lobbyist on the issue. But when it comes to the ongoing negotiations with legislators, Harris confirms that TFA is on the outside.
“The legislature has decided they’re not going to talk to TFA, which is the only state organization to have a presence in this issue for 15 years,” he said. “There are a significant amount of legislators talking to us off the record, because they’ve been threatened by leadership not to talk to us.”
Harris balked at the suggestion that the association’s frequently aggressive rhetoric might be the reason for legislators giving them the cold shoulder. He said they’re just “playing games.”
Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, said Wednesday he expected to file two amendments to the bill before calling for a vote in a House committee next week. One, he said, would narrow the bill’s scope so that it applied only to gun carry permit holders, a limitation that Harwell said would make party leadership “more comfortable.” The second would create an exemption for nuclear facilities.
On Wednesday, a release from the TFA called the amendments “nothing but appeasement by these Republican leaders to the ‘Golden Goose’ of corporate money.”
Harris said Thursday the TFA is open to looking at the amendments once they’re filed. But if the bill strays too close to similar legislation in Georgia, which includes a long list of exemptions, he said the association will work to kill the amendment and possibly the bill itself.
For the most part, Democrats have been on the sidelines for what has been an in-house debate amongst Republicans. But during a press availability Thursday, Democratic House Caucus Chairman Mike Turner gave reporters his take.
“I’m a member of the NRA, OK? I believe in the Second Amendment,” he said. “But it’s been broadly interpreted here, lately, what that means. I think next thing you know, we get guns in parking lots, we’ll be carrying guns in the factory cafeteria. They keep reaching, reaching, reaching on issues. I think we’ve got enough gun laws on the books now.”