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Does ‘guns in parking lots’ law need clarification?

Johnson City Press • Jan 6, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Tennessee lawmakers say they plan to tweak a law they passed last year allowing state residents with handgun carry permits to keep firearms in their vehicles regardless of where they are parked. Sponsors of the so-called “guns in parking lots” law, which went into effect July 1, say they want to remove any possible confusion concerning the measure.The clarity of the law came into question early last summer when state Attorney General Robert Cooper issued a legal opinion in which he said the law “only decriminalizes the carrying and storage of firearms and firearm ammunition,” but “has no impact on the employment relations between an employer and an employee.”The attorney general wrote that he believes businesses can still fire employees who violate policies prohibiting guns on company property.Supporters of the law, however, disagreed. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Cooper’s opinion on the new law was just that — his opinion. While the sponsors of the measure say the law does not seek to alter Tennessee’s “employment-at-will doctrine,” they believe companies would nonetheless invite problems if they try to enforce a gun ban on their property. “Employers who terminate employees just for exercising this right may violate the state’s clear public policy that handgun carry permit holders are allowed to transport and store firearms or ammunition,” the sponsors of the “guns in parking lots” bill wrote in a statement that accompanied passage of the measure.The guns in parking lots law has divided advocates of Second Amendment rights and those who support property rights. It’s also proven to be a problem for lawmakers with allegiances to both sides. In response to Cooper’s opinion, Ramsey issued a statement in April saying the “General Assembly created a clear statutory right allowing permit holders to lawfully keep a firearm stored in their car while at work.” Supporters of the measure 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.Opponents say the law places the rights of gun permit holders above those of property owners. Many of this region’s largest employers — including East Tennessee State University, Mountain States Health Alliance and Eastman Chemical Co. — have voiced opposition to the law.We want to hear from you. Does the “guns in parking lots” law need clarification? Should employers have a right to ban firearms on their property, or should gun permit holders be able to keep their weapons in their cars at the workplace?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 soon.

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