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Gun Rights Bills Advance in Senate

by Steven Hale on March 28, 2012

Senate committees sided with gun owners over business owners Tuesday afternoon, moving two pieces of guns-in-lots legislation after weeks of debate and delay on the issue.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB3002, which prohibits employers from banning the storage of firearms in cars on company lots. The Senate’s commerce committee passed a companion bill, SB2992, which prohibits “employment discrimination based on an applicant or current employee’s ownership, storage, transportation or possession of a firearm.” Both bills were brought by Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill.

As expected, SB3002 was amended so that it only covers gun carry permit holders. Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, further amended the bill to include licensed hunters over 21. Another amendment added exemptions for single-family homes, nuclear facilities and United States Department of Energy sites, such as one in Oak Ridge.

Memphis Democrat Beverly Marrero expressed concern about applying the bill to licensed hunters, citing the lower standard of training and expertise required to obtain such a license as opposed to a carry permit. An Associated Press reporter apparently ordered one during the committee’s discussion for $27.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, would have given the directors of K-12 schools and university presidents the authority to make their own decision about whether to allow the storage of firearms in their parking lots. The committee rejected that proposal, 5-3.

Citing the changes to the bill’s scope, Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, requested that the committee hear from representatives from FedEx and other companies, who had previously appeared before the committee to voice their opposition to the legislation. Faulk attempted to placate Ford by asking business representatives in attendance to stand if the amendments changed their position in any way. No one stood.

Moments later, judiciary committee chair Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, denied the request and called a vote on the bill, which passed 6-1. Marrero voted no. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Collierville, and Ford abstained from the vote.

Faulk’s employment discrimination bill was amended so that it remained consistent with SB3002, but eventually faced more opposition. Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, called the bill a “job killer for the state of Tennessee,” and Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, expressed concern that the new age restriction would open the door to discrimination against 18-, 19- and 20-year-old employees who are licensed hunters.

Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, joined Burks and Stewart in voting against the bill, which passed 6-3.

Unlike the Judiciary Committee, legislators in the commerce committee did hear from business representatives. As Faulk had suggested earlier, their feelings on the matter were unchanged.

Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry lobbyist Bradley Jackson called the bill “the worst bill” that any state had brought forward on the issue. Dan Haskell, a Nashville attorney representing the area Chamber of Commerce, added, “We were against it before. We’re against it now.”

National Rifle Association lobbyist Darren LaSorte said while the group  does not support restricting the bill to carry permit holders, the legislation still has NRA support. He said the bill appropriately respects the rights of those on both sides of the issue.

“We think this is the perfect balance. We think the property rights intersect where the rubber meets the asphalt,” he said. “So as long as that firearm is being kept in that person’s private vehicle, we’re honoring the private property rights of the property owner who owns the parking lot or the business where employees are prohibited from carrying.”

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