New Guns-in-Lots Measure Passes First Senate Committee Go-Round

A bill granting legal protections to certain gun owners so they can keep a firearm in their vehicle while parked on their employers’ property is quickly headed to the Tennessee Senate floor.

Senate Bill 142, sponsored by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, seeks to put to rest a running political skirmish from last year that pitted typically Republican-leaning constituencies against one another — business interests and gun-rights advocates. It passed out of the nine-member Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday with no opposition; Ophelia Ford, a Memphis Democrat, abstained from voting.

Ramsey’s bill would authorize Tennessee’s more than 370,000 carry-permit holder to keep a gun in their car even against their employer’s wishes, provided the weapon is secured securely and stored out of sight in the parked vehicle. The legislation also protects the employer against “any civil action for damages, injuries or death resulting from or arising out of another’s actions involving a firearm or ammunition transported or stored in accordance” with the law.

“I was pleased to see the Judiciary Committee vote nearly unanimously on a bipartisan basis to allow gun permit holders to keep their firearms securely locked in their vehicles while at work,” Ramsey said in a statement Tuesday evening. “This bill ensures that private property rights are respected while gun owners are protected.”

However, promoters of both business interests and gun-owner rights see problems with the bill, and their attempts to lobby lawmakers to alter it — or kill it — are not over by a long shot.

Even while declaring the bill “vastly improved over what we dealt with last year,” Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Bill Ozier told Senate lawmakers his group by no means supports Ramsey’s measure.

“The preference of the business community would be that no legislation be passed,” Ozier said. “We believe that the current system of don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach has worked well for many years since 1997 when the handgun carry permit legislation passed, and that the urgency of passing some legislation to expand the rights of gun owners to bring their weapons onto the property of others is essentially a solution without a problem.”

Ozier added, “We have heard from several employers who note that the outcome of this legislation may impact their decision to either to locate new facilities in the state or to expand existing operations.”

On the other side, Tennessee Firearms Association executive director John Harris doesn’t believe the bill extends adequate protection to a gun-owners storing their firearm in a borrowed or rented car parked on an employer’s property. In addition, Harris would like to see language added that protects a worker from essentially being discriminated against by an employer for exercising their “safe commute” right. Also, a provision in the bill making it inactive where guns are “prohibited by federal law” ought to be removed, said Harris.

Both Harris and Ozier indicate they’ll be working with allies in the House of Representatives to amend the measure more to their liking.

“I think it needs a lot of work,” said Harris.

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