TFA: Beavers Files Amendments to Address “Problems” With Safe Commute Law

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; February 3, 2013:

Nashville, TN – Gun rights bulwark Senator Mae Beavers has filed amendments to be addressed on the Senate Floor to address problems in the current law regarding a law passed in 2013 regarding handgun permit holders who commute to work and their right to store legally owned firearms in personal vehicles.

The amendments, which have been filed on Senate Bills 1700 and 1701, will allow workers in Tennessee to safely commute to work with a firearm in their vehicle without fear of either criminal prosecution or termination of employment. While Senator Mark Green’s bills (SB1700 and SB1701) are a step in the right direction, they do not adequately address the legal confusion surrounding the 2013 law. In addition, SB1700 and SB1701 do not prevent employers from firing employees who store personal items in personal vehicles.

Senator Beavers’ amendments would fix all the problems with the 2013 law, which was pushed through by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey even with notice of serious flaws. Senator Beavers’ amendments are intended to ensure that law abiding Tennessee firearms owners are protected while transporting firearms in their vehicles to and from work.

Senator Beavers’ amendments would provide that a citizen can store any item that he or she legally possesses, including a firearm, in any vehicle (other than an employer provided vehicle) that the citizen legally possesses. It is a simple clarification of Tennessee’s “castle doctrine” which equates the personal vehicle with the personal residence.

This type of change is necessary because current law does not fully protect employees from criminal prosecution nor does it provide any protection from losing their jobs if their vehicle contains an item they lawfully possess, especially a firearm. The Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion (13-41) noting that the 2013 “parking lot” law did not actually protect lawful possession of a firearm from criminal prosecution or termination of employment.

Recently, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s office directed legislative staff lawyers to manufacture a legal opinion that stated exactly the opposite. The Tennessee Firearms Association understands the opinion from the Lieutenant Governor’s staff lawyers is faulty because testimony of the House bill sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Faison, disagrees with their conclusion regarding legislative intent. During testimony last year, Representative Jeremy Faison stated that the bill does not protect employees from termination or criminal prosecution, and that it was not the intent of the bill sponsor to do so. See statements of Rep. Faison in committee regarding HB118 on Feb 20, 2013.

In addition, approximately ten amendments were offered in 2013 on the House Floor by Representatives Mark Pody and John Mark Windle to address the serious and obvious flaws in the 2013 legislation before it was enacted. House leadership prohibited any of those amendments from being addressed on the merits. The defeat of these 2013 House floor amendments are evidence that the legislature knew of these flaws in the Ramsey legislation but did not take corrective action.

Even though the Tennessee Firearms Association discounts the opinion issued by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s lawyers, the fact that two divergent legal opinions exist on the 2013 law shows that significant confusion in the law must be addressed. Indeed, the confusion may be so significant that the 2013 law could be unconstitutionally vague.

This issue is not just about firearms however, as the rights of law abiding citizens to store items that they are lawfully allowed to possess in their vehicles while at work have also come into question. In 2012, a representative from Federal Express testified in the Senate Judiciary hearings on the same topic that they were able to fire employees for the mere possession of a Bible in their vehicle while parked on Federal Express property.

The Tennessee Firearms Association would have preferred that the problems with the 2013 law had been fully considered and discussed in the Senate Judiciary before these issues were sent to the Senate Floor. However, Senator Beavers’ bill (SB1733) and potentially other bills on this topic were not even considered or discussed by the Senate Judiciary when it took up this issue.

“Any vote against Senator Beavers’ amendment must be considered carefully as a vote against the Second Amendment, fundamental constitutional principles and the life safety of citizens, even if it is only a procedural vote,” said John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Former Representative Debra Maggart was ousted from office by a huge margin due in part to her continual partisan efforts to block good Second Amendment legislation and impairing the rights of citizens to protect their families and lives. It is important to address these core constitutional and life safety issues carefully when they are raised.”