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Should Tenn. lawmakers pass guns in parking lots bill?

Staff Report • Nov 12, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Sponsors of a bill to allow handgun permit holders and licensed hunters in Tennessee to tote their weapons onto private parking lots say they will again push passage of the legislation when the state General Assembly returns to Nashville in January.

The bill, which was put on hold earlier this year, has created a debate that has divided advocates of Second Amendment rights and those who support property rights. It’s also proved to be a dilemma for lawmakers with allegiances to both sides, set Chamber of Commerce and business groups against the National Rifle Association and has given pause to legislative leaders searching for a compromise.

In April, the House Republican Caucus decided in a closed door meeting that the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill was just too politically divisive to take up on the floor. Despite the heavy lobbying of the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association for lawmakers to pass the bill before the end of the session, House Republicans agreed it was not in their best interests to alienate state businesses leaders who have spoken up loudly against the measure.

This did not, however, sit well with John Harris, the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. He blamed House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, for the demise of the bill and said in an email that it was time to symbolically “display a used crucifix at the entrance to the General Assembly as a warning.”

He also wrote: “Rep. Debra Maggart’s political career needs to end much as the Romans crucified criminals.”

Harris and his group took credit in August for upsetting Maggart in the Republican Primary for the 45th District seat.

Supporters of the bill say law-abiding Tennesseans have a constitutional right to carry their guns wherever they want. They argue no sign or decree can interfere with that right. Proponents also believe no business, government building or public place should be immune to the Second Amendment.

Meanwhile, business owners say they know of no problems with the current law, which allows property owners to post signs forbidding weapons from being brought onto their premises. Opponents say the bill tramples the rights of property owners in favor of those of gun permit holders. Many of this region’s largest employers — such as East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance and Eastman Chemical Co. — don’t like the bill. Officials with the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga have also spoken out against the bill.

“We would not welcome people being able to carry weapons on factory grounds, probably just as little as the state House or Senate would like people to enter their building armed,” Frank Fischer, the CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in March.

We want to hear from you. Should Tennessee lawmakers pass the guns in parking lots bill?

Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification.

We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.

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