As gun advocates continue dropping political bombs on legislative incumbents this election season, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he’s beginning to think legislative leaders and lawmakers may not be of “a mood” to expand gun laws next year.
At least, not with the help of gun rights groups.
Between the National Rifle Association launching an expensive political war with a top House Republican and the Tennessee Firearms Association firing criticism all over the party’s leadership, Republicans have lately felt themselves unfairly targeted. Ramsey said Thursday those attacks may sour leadership’s plans to consider allowing gun owners to keep their weapons locked in their car while at work, or cause leaders to sideline state and national gun groups from helping hammer out a bill.
“I don’t know what the mood of the General Assembly will be when we come back in, whether it will be a mood to pass a bill or whether it will be a mood that you don’t negotiate with people that threaten you. I don’t know where we’ll be,” Ramsey told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday, adding it’s “pretty obvious” guns groups are trying to bully lawmakers.
However, John Harris, Tennessee Firearms Association executive director and a vocal critic of GOP leadership, said actions that may appear like bullying to a politician could more appropriately be described as an effort to add accountability into the political mix.
Statehouse GOP leaders have adopted an attitude of “We’re the rulers, and we’re the ones who make the decisions, and you don’t tell us what to do,” said Harris.
“That’s not being a representative of the people who voted for you,” he said. “If their mentality is, ‘Play with us on our terms or we’re not going to deal with your issues,’ then our response as a grassroots organization is, ‘We’re going to go in your district and find someone who will beat you in the primary or beat you in the general election.’”
That’s exactly what’s being attempted by gun-rights advocates in Sumner County, where the National Rifle Association has poured more than $75,000 into an effort to unseat Rep. Debra Maggart, the House GOP Caucus leader they blame for holding up the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill. They are supporting challenger Courtney Rogers, a former Tea Party organizer and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, in the Aug. 2 GOP primary.
The guns-in-lots issue divided the Republican party this year as they had to choose between two key constituencies: Second Amendment advocates who want the tools to protect themselves and business leaders who say they have a right to ban guns from their property. Firearm advocates eventually agreed to compromise by narrowing the bill to only handgun permit holders, but Republicans stopped the bill just short of a House floor vote.
Ramsey contends the issue is “not about the Second Amendment,” but rather the right of employers to set workplace rules.
“The Second Amendment protects us from the government, from the government taking away our firearms,” said Ramsey. “This is a contract between two people. We’re talking about landowner and an employee.”
Guns-in-lots legislation supporters contend that the property-rights argument cuts both ways, given that an employee’s personal vehicle is involved and the employers are in essence demanding the authority to dictate what’s transported to and from work inside them. Harris said the real issue is essentially one of state-sanctioned discrimination against a certain class of otherwise law-abiding citizens exercising a constitutional right.
“If the employee owns the car, they have a right to have whatever they can legally transport in the car, and the employer shouldn’t have a say in there,” said Harris.
Ramsey, who has delighted in the support of gun-rights enthusiasts in the past, said he’s now grown weary of the TFA and NRA. The lieutenant governor — who like leaders in the House intervened to ensure no vote would be taken on the matter on the chamber floor — said he may try to hammer out a related piece of legislation next session with or without support from gun groups.
He said the bill could include employees putting a copy of their handgun carry permit on file with their employer. Ramsey said he would also like to include language that reiterates that handgun-carry permit holders must have taken a gun safety course, submitted to background checks and allowed the government to keep their fingerprints on file, he said.