There are still a few questions concerning a new Tennessee law, set to go in effect July 1, to allow state residents with handgun carry permits to keep firearms in their vehicles regardless of where they are parked.
State Attorney General Robert Cooper recently issued a legal opinion in which he states the “guns in parking lots” 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.”
That means the attorney general believes businesses can still fire employees who violate policies prohibiting guns on company property.
No so fast, says Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who believes Cooper’s opinion on the new law is just that — his opinion. Ramsey and four fellow Republican cosponsors of the measure entered a letter into the Senate Journal in March expounding on their legislative intent for the law.
While the sponsors say the law does not seek to alter Tennessee’s “employment-at-will doctrine,” they suggest companies would 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 wrote.
The Associated Press reported that statement appears to be in conflict with comments made by the main House sponsor, who assured his colleagues during floor debate that the measure wouldn’t affect a company’s ability to dismiss an employee.
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 dilemma 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.
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. — have voiced opposition to the new law.
We want to hear what you think. Is the intent of the guns in parking lots law clear to you?
Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification.
We will print your responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.