Environment and Natural Resources Liberty and Justice

Governor Shooting for Narrowed Scope of Guns-in-Parking-Lots Legislation

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Wednesday that he expects to see “guns in parking lots” legislation on his desk this session, though he would like to see it altered before it gets there.

A bill brought by Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, would require employers and landowners to allow workers to store legally owned firearms in their cars on company parking lots. The bill would apply to private businesses as well as public institutions and would cover all gun owners, as opposed to just those with handgun carry permits.

Haslam said the bill, as currently written, is too broad, and that he’s working to find a balance between the concerns of gun rights advocates and business associations. He did not say, however, what specific changes he’d like to see made to the legislation.

“We felt like it was overly broad in terms of it covered all parking lots, everywhere, whether it was at a school or other things,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve gotten to the specific level of saying and what should be out. I haven’t done the hard work of thinking through all the different circumstances.”

While lawmakers attempt to rein in the bill, which Haslam, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell have characterized as overly broad, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce says the plan in any form would shoot holes in its property rights.

“I still don’t know how you can take away the private property rights of individuals in the name of the 2nd Amendment or the right to bear arms,” said Deborah Woolley, chamber president. “Both rights have to be protected, and telling someone they can’t bring their weapon on my property, it doesn’t take away a right to bear an arm. It means they can’t bring it on my property.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday heard testimony from fans of the bill, who argued that, when a company’s gun-free policy includes workers’ cars, it impedes on their own property rights and their right to self-defense.

Sam Cooper, a FedEx employee from Memphis, told the committee that workers don’t need a firearm at work, but rather on their commute to and from the workplace. By banning guns in parking lots, he argued, companies effectively prevent workers from leaving their homes with a legally owned firearm.

“When my employer, or any employer that bans legal storage of legal firearm, says to me, or anybody, ‘you can’t have it in the parking lot,’ they’ve essentially extended their property rights all the way to my front door,” he said.

West Tennessee Firearms Association Board Member Richard Archie said his daughter picks up her child on the way home from work. Without the ability to carry a weapon in her car, he said, she is left defenseless if anything should anything go wrong.

“If she has a flat tire on the way there on (U.S.) 412, coming back, we’ve turned her loose to the wolves of the world,” he said.

NRA lobbyist Heidi Keesling and Shelby County small-business owner Kenny Crenshaw also appeared before the committee in support of the bill. Keesling said another goal of the legislation is to create more uniformity amongst various states, which have different laws governing where gun owners can take and store their firearms.

In response to the testimony, Sen. Beverly Marrero said she routinely drives about Memphis – which is among the most dangerous cities in the country – without a firearm or concern for her safety.

“I drive around in Memphis all the time. I’m able to drive around all hours of the day and night, all over Memphis. I don’t have a gun. Don’t carry one in my car. I feel relatively safe,” said the 73-year-old Shelby County Democrat. “It seems to me that gentlemen seem to me more afraid to drive around at night in Memphis, than women. Maybe we should talk to y’all a little bit more.”

The committee will hear testimony from opponents of the measure, including the Chamber of Commerce, on March 6 before taking any action on the bill.


Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report