NASHVILLE — The House on Thursday voted to send to the governor a contentious bill that would allow the state's nearly 400,000 handgun carry permit holders to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked.
Before the vote, Speaker Beth Harwell assured Republican colleagues that the measure is endorsed by the National Rifle Association and that members of the business community are "holding their noses" about its passage.
The chamber voted 72-22 to pass the measure, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, after rejecting a series of Democratic proposals to maintain business owners' rights to ban weapons on their property and to create exceptions for schools and colleges.
"We have just under 400,000 law abiding citizens who have gone through the necessary process to obtain a handgun carry permit and have proved their worth to carry a gun," Faison said. "The least we can do is allow them to keep this gun locked in their car as they go to work and carry in their daily lives."
Democrats cited statistics gathered by The Associated Press this week that more than 2,000 people have had their carry permits revoked or suspended over the past two calendar years for charges ranging from drug dealing to murder.
Republican Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville is among those who have had permits suspended after pleading guilty last month to drunken driving and gun charges.
Todd, who is best known for sponsoring a 2010 law that allows people with handgun carry permits to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, was excused from the floor session before Thursday's vote.
Supporters of the bill say the majority of permit holders shouldn't be penalized for the transgressions of a few.
The parking-lots gun measure has roiled Republicans in the Legislature for years, and the issue came to a head last year when the National Rifle Association and other gun groups blamed a top House Republican for blocking a floor vote on the bill and later helped defeat her in her Republican primary.
Harwell, R-Nashville, told her colleagues in a caucus meeting before the floor vote to disregard complaints from "fringe groups" that the guns bill was not expansive enough, seeking to reassure them that the NRA has endorsed the final version of the measure.
She also acknowledged that business advocates are upset about ceding control over their property but said those objections shouldn't halt the approval of the bill.
"The business community to a large extent is holding their nose and accepting the fact that we are where we are," she said.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, stressed the property-rights angle during the 80-minute floor debate.
"We are moving so swiftly and thoughtlessly toward taking away a citizen's right to determine how their property will be used," Fitzhugh said.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has raised concerns about the measure in the past, especially as it relates to greater access to guns on campus. But he has not said whether he plans sign the bill into law, and a spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Thursday.
The Senate approved its version of the bill 28-5 in early February.
Faison told reporters after the vote that he sees the proposal as enhancing safety at schools.
"When seconds matter, police are minutes away, we need people who have proved they're worth to hold a gun," he said. "And a lot of times they can stop, or impede imminent danger, especially at a school."