Gun Rights Advocates, Democrats Taking Shots at GOP

The National Rifle Association’s point man in Tennessee favors putting the state’s Republican leadership on the spot for all to see regarding controversial gun-rights expansion measures in the General Assembly.

“This is an issue that has been pending for four years,” NRA lobbyist Darren LaSorte said of legislation designed to ensure employees can keep a firearm in their vehicle parked on their employer’s property during work hours, even if the employer doesn’t approve. Another bill bars a company or business owner from requiring that prospective employees disclose if they own or carry a gun.

Republicans on the House Calendar and Rules Committee voted 15-8 Tuesday to send the so-called guns-in-parking-lots or guns-in-trunks bills, HB3560 and HB3559, to a “summer study committee,” thus hoping to ensure their demise.

Under pressure from businesses arguing against the bills, GOP leaders in both the House and the Senate have been trying for weeks to deep-six the legislation. Large companies like Volkswagen and FedEx, as well as the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, have expressed opposition to any gun-carry legal protections being extended onto a business-owner’s property. Universities and health care facility proprietors have joined in opposing the bills on safety grounds.

Discussion of the Republicans’ maneuvering to kill the bills got heated when Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, waved aside attempts by the sponsor, Democrat Eddie Bass of Prospect, to call a vote to send the legislation to the House floor.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner accused Dunn and other Republicans on the committee of violating established parliamentary protocols in their zeal to bury the bills for the session.

“I will sue this place if you don’t follow procedure,” said Turner. “Now, you are going to follow procedure — this is not going to be a dictatorship.”

Republicans across the room jeered Turner for being “out of order,” prompting the burly Old Hickory firefighter to gesture angrily and then rise to invite his tormentors over for a closer quarters discussion.

Turner said later he felt Republicans weren’t treating Bass fairly or respectfully. “They were trying to run over my member and my job is to protect my member,” said Turner.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m not going to vote for the bill on the floor. But I think people have a right to hear it,” he said.

The NRA’s LaSorte said he’s now “absolutely in favor” of an attempt to bring the legislation directly to the floor of the chamber.

Gun-rights advocates have been ratcheting up the pressure on GOP leaders, saying that if Republicans block passage of the legislation this session they can expect to be harried by potshots aimed at their commitment to Second Amendment rights throughout the primary and general election campaign season.

John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, caused something of a stir Tuesday when he fired off a political call to arms to the organization’s grassroots email list.

Harris took special aim at House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, whose political career, he wrote, “needs to end much as the Romans crucified criminals.”

“Symbolicly (sic), it is time to display a used crucifix at the entrance to the General Assembly as a warning,” the email stated.

House Republicans later accused Harris of “bullying” tactics.

However, Harris wasn’t finished yet. After the House Calendar Committee vote TFA unloaded another broadside.

“This is an outrage because this committee has no, none, jurisdiction over the merits of the bill. It has one job, to move a bill in an orderly fashion to the floor,” read the statement.

The email continued:

It is important to understand that the defeat of this important legislation is at the hands of the House Republican leadership and, from news reports, working with the cooperation of Senate Republican leadership and at the insistence of Gov. Haslam.

However, it is equally important to understand that the House Republican leadership serves at all times at the pleasure of the House Republican caucus. The caucus, as a whole, therefore holds the blame for failing to adequately demand that House Republican leadership bring this bill to the floor for a vote on the merits.

In the Senate, Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis on Monday also tried to engineer a straight-to-the-floor rebellion to circumvent that chamber’s scheduling committee. Kyle’s attempt narrowly failed, but Kyle indicated he’ll give it another shot before the session closes down for the year.

Both the Senate and the House are meeting for floor sessions today.