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VOL. 37 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 03, 2013

Scattershot approach on guns gets some hits, mostly misses

By Robert Sherborne

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“Be it resolved…that this body hereby expresses its firm intention and resolve to fully marshal the legal resources of the state of Tennessee to judicially challenge and overturn any effort by the federal government to restrict or abolish the right of the people to keep and bear firearms or ammunition.”

That resolution, which passed the state Senate 27-0 last month, reflected an emotional focus of the last legislative session: guns.

Dozens of bills were introduced about who may carry them, when and where, and how the guns laws will be enforced or resisted.

Most of these bills died a quiet death in committee. But several did not. Among them:

A bill sponsored by Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland) that allows certain school employees to carry guns – without the knowledge of students or their parents.

The idea is that this will serve as a deterrent to “bad guys” who might want to attack schools, but would have no idea who might, or might not, be armed.

Through several amendments, strict limits were placed on who could carry such weapons in schools. They must be law enforcement officers or former law enforcement officers, must have a gun-carry permit, and they must undergo additional training. They must also have permission from the school superintendent and principal.

These limitations are so severe, and so few people can meet them, that the bill drew fire from some of the legislature’s staunchest gun advocates.

“This bill does hardly anything to help” protect students, said Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville).

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) voiced misgivings about keeping students and parents in the dark.

“We are substituting our judgment for parents,” Kyle said. “Your constituents who have children in school would like to know if their teacher has a gun in the classroom.”

But, Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) retorted that keeping the information confidential actually protects students.

“A bad guy has to ask, ‘Does somebody in there have a gun?’”

The bill passed the Senate 26-6, and the House 72-15.

Another bill, dubbed “guns in trunks,” passed the Senate 28-5, and the House 72-22. It has been signed by governor and is now law.

The idea was that people who carry guns for personal protection should not be deprived of that protection on their way to and from work, or when visiting a public place.

The bill allows those with gun-carry permits to take their weapons with them to work, or public places like restaurants, as long as they lock their guns in their trunks or glove box in the parking lot when they go inside. The bill does not give them the right to take their guns inside the workplace.

The bill was controversial, since some of the state’s largest employers do not want guns on their property.

Less controversial was a bill by Campfield to shorten the time it takes for a person who has voluntarily been through drug or alcohol rehabilitation to get a gun-carry permit.

Current law says such people must wait 10 years.

But Campfield said this is “excessive” and is discouraging people who might need it from voluntarily entering rehab.

“What we’re having is people are not going into rehab because they don’t want to lose their ability to get a (gun-carry) permit for 10 years,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate 24-2 and the House 90-0, and has been signed into law.

People who are sent to rehab by a court must still wait 10 years.

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