VOL. 37 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 8, 2013
Analysis: Gun bill is 1 GOP wishes would go away
NASHVILLE (AP) — The guns bill that Tennessee lawmakers wish would just go away is up for its first floor vote today.
The measure to allow people with state-issued handgun carry permits to store loaded firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked is once again putting the squeeze on Republicans torn between their allegiances to gun advocates and businesses interests.
So far, the Second Amendment side is winning.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville and the sponsor of the upper chamber's version of the bill, has cleared the path toward a quick floor vote.
Arguments by the business community that the measure infringes on their ability to secure their property have been brushed aside. As have concerns that the bill could hurt Tennessee's prospects for landing future investments by corporations from countries where gun laws are much stricter.
"The reason we're doing it right now is we want to get this out of the way, because it's much ado about nothing," Ramsey told reporters last week at an annual legislative issues session hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association.
The measure isn't expected to find much of a fight in the Senate but could face more scrutiny when House committees begin discussing it this week.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has been more sympathetic to the business community's property rights arguments, and she has also expressed reservations about guns being allowed on the school and college campuses.
It's unclear, though, whether she's willing to again expend the political capital that she did last year to halt a broader version of the bill from becoming law. Last year's fight ended up costing House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart her legislative seat when the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates later bankrolled her primary opponent.
"My prediction is this bill is going to pass," Harwell said. "It's not a priority of the Republican caucus. So I think the sooner we get this out of the way, the better."
Harwell said she and fellow House Republicans are "well aware" of the arguments against the bill raised by the business, higher education and law enforcement communities.
She said the House committees are "very capable of addressing all those issues," but she didn't suggest any specific changes to the bill.
Democrats have expressed frustration at the guns legislation being put on the fast track.
"Usually you do the important stuff — the things that are on your mind and a priory for the state first," said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. "And apparently their highest priority is to force business to give up their property rights."
During the debate over last year's guns in parking lots proposal, Ramsey said those advocating for firearms to be allowed on campus were taking the issue too far.
"Sometimes you start hurting your cause," Ramsey told reporters last March. "There are lines you cross over talking about schools and colleges where suddenly people say, 'Now come on, I'm not sure that's reasonable.'"
Ramsey last year said he wanted to emulate a 2008 Georgia law that incorporates several exceptions to where guns are allowed to be stored, such as secure parking areas and visitors' parking spots.
Georgia also allows employers to ban workers from bringing weapons onto company property if they have been subject to disciplinary action.
Ramsey predicted last year that "I think you'll see the Georgia bill passed." But there is no talk of any exemptions in Ramsey's bill scheduled for a floor vote on Monday.
Ramsey and other supporters point to a little-known state law that already allows non-student adults to have guns stored in vehicles parked in school or college parking lots. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he was surprised to find out about that provision.
"The argument that folks in favor of this bill make is that actually restricting it to permit holders is more restrictive than what the law is now," Haslam said.
The governor has remained noncommittal about the measure, saying he wants to see its final form before making up his mind on the issue.
"There is going to be a lot more discussion," he said. "Back to the political equation of where it's going to be, honestly I don't know yet."
Ramsey for his part doesn't appear to consider the governor's concerns about the bill to rise to the level of a potential veto.
"Oh gosh, no," Ramsey said. "That's not going to happen."