By Josh Brown, The Tennessean
The next state lawmaking session is five months away, but gun rights and business groups are already gearing up for another fight over whether workers can keep guns inside their vehicles on the job.
Bills that would allow gun owners to keep firearms in their cars,
even in their employers' parking lots, have percolated in the General
Assembly for several years. During the most recent legislative session,
such measures never made it to the House or Senate floor for a vote.
But the discussion next year could look different. Second Amendment advocates spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads attacking state Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who earlier this year blocked a "guns-in-trunks" measure. She lost her bid for re-election.
before this month's primary elections in Tennessee, a coalition of 20
business groups from across the state sent letters to legislative
candidates warning them about the potential impact passage would have.
creates a dangerous working environment for employees, customers and
visitors," the groups wrote in a July 24 letter. "It burdens a business
with expensive potential liability at a time when they can least afford
Still, two lawmakers have indicated they plan to introduce guns-in-trunks bills in 2013.
have filed the bill for the last four years, and I am sure it will be
filed again," Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbrier, said in an email. "That
does not mean it will move forward this session, but I think we will sit
down and have a full discussion on the issue with the caucus and with
all of the interested stakeholders."
State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he also is considering sponsoring a measure.
open to being the vehicle to move some things forward," he said. "But I
don't want to get involved if anyone is making threats at people."
NRA stands firm
Campfield was referring to the National
Rifle Association, which spent more than $75,000 on ads attacking
Maggart. Campfield said many legislators are upset over the NRA turning
on lawmakers who traditionally have supported gun rights legislation.
"They didn't think things were handled fairly," he said. "A lot of people just think they were just trying to flex some muscle."
Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, said the group is unapologetic about its pursuit of Second Amendment rights.
kept it bottled up and wouldn't allow a vote," he said. "We will
continue to pursue what we consider a self-defense legislation."
groups that opposed the bills said some versions were too broad and
seemed to allow gun owners to take their firearms onto any private
property against the wishes of its owner - including residences and open
parking lots owned by businesses such as retailers and theaters. Under
current state law, businesses can prohibit guns inside their buildings
and in their parking lots.
Cox said it was never the NRA's
intention to allow guns to be taken into private residences, and the
group would support an exemption.
"There's a difference between a driveway at home and a parking lot at work," he said.
'Balancing of rights'
Bill Ozier, chairman of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and
Industry, said businesses need to be allowed to maintain a safe
workplace for their employees.
"This is not an anti-gun position
from the business community," he said. "It's more of a balancing of
rights. There are lots of chamber members who are very pro-gun ...
hunters, target shooters. We're not trying to restrict anyone's rights
in those areas."
In the most recent legislative session, business
groups accused the NRA of being unwilling to work toward a compromise,
such as adding exemptions for employers who control access to their
parking lots with gates or security guards.
In Georgia, the NRA backed a bill that offered a similar exemption.
In a bid to help reach a resolution, the chamber might go as far as proposing a bill itself during the next session, Ozier said.
are looking at, is there a bill that we can propose that would provide
some of what the NRA and other groups are looking for, but at the same
time protect the property rights of employers and property owners?" he