A bill currently before the state General Assembly to allow handgun permit holders and licensed hunters in Tennessee to tote their weapons onto private parking lots 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 left the speakers of both houses searching for a quick compromise before the session ends later this month.
And the bill is also been called a solution in search of a problem. 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.
The legislation also presents a “slippery slope,” a term for bills that offer far-reaching or unintended consequences. Currently, citizens can’t carry their guns into the places where state officials do their business — the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Building and state Capitol Building. Should this not be changed with passage of “guns in parking lots” bill?
After all, the argument for the bill is law-abiding Tennesseans have a constitutional right to carry their guns wherever they want. No sign or decree can interfere with that right. Why then should the halls of state government be immune to the Second Amendment?
Opponents say the bill tramples the rights of property owners in favor of those of gun permit holders. Businesses and large employers — such as East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance and Tennessee Eastman — don’t like the bill.
On Monday, officials with Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant spoke out against the bill. Executives with the German automaker hosted a reception in Nashville to expressly tell Gov. Bill Haslam and General Assembly leaders how much they dislike the idea of stripping employers of their right to ban firearms on company property.
“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 an interview with The Associated Press.
Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey have said the bill goes too far. Ramsey has also suggested it might be impossible for lawmakers to work out an acceptable compromise before the General Assembly adjourns for the year.
Even so, lobbyists for the NRA continue to flex their muscles on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, a new version of the bill — amended to limit the measure to just handgun carry permit holders — was approved by a voice vote in the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee. The amended version is similar to a bill that has been taken off notice in the Senate.
Despite the rush of some in the House to pass the bill, Senate sponsors are more interested in finding a workable agreement. The most logical solution would be to send this bill to a summer study committee that would allow business groups and the NRA to forge a compromise. But, alas, there’s the rub: The NRA refuses to entertain a compromise.
The organization is used to getting its way in Nashville. It’s time, however, for state lawmakers — many of whom have happily accepted the organization’s money and endorsements over the years — to say enough is enough.
This is certainly a complicated and emotional issue, and one that should be dealt with in a reasonable and deliberative manner. Rushing to pass a bill just to satisfy the ego of the NRA is unacceptable. As we said earlier, we know of no reason why this bill is needed in the first place. Therefore, pushing to pass it in the final minutes of the legislative session is not only unnecessary, but shows a lack of respect for the legislative process.
The best thing that can happen to “guns in parking lots” is for the bill to be given a long look by a study committee.