Parking lot guns bill advanced to full Senate vote

Associated Press • Feb 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM

NASHVILLE — A bill seeking to guarantee people with handgun-carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked was advanced to a full floor vote Thursday despite reservations voiced by the business community and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

The measure sponsored by Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville was approved by the Judiciary Committee on an 8-0 vote.

“We feel strongly that law-abiding citizens who have gone through the trouble of getting gun carry permits and have an impeccable record here in this state should have a right to keep their gun locked in their vehicle.,” Ramsey told The Associated Press before the vote.

“It has nothing to do with where you are or what you’re doing,” he said.

Ramsey’s bill would not follow the model set by the state law that allows bar and restaurant owners to post firearms bans at their premises. It also wouldn’t exclude areas like schools, colleges and universities — which the governor has called crucial to his acceptance of a final bill.

“My primary concern was about schools and that whoever the ruling authority of that school was had the right to exclude that,” Haslam told the AP last week. “I’ve been pretty upfront all along that that’s been a primary issue for me.”

Haslam met with Ramsey and GOP members of the committee for nearly an hour before Tuesday’s committee meeting began. Ramsey said he tried to persuade the governor to drop his concerns about the bill.

“I explained to him this has nothing to do with schools or colleges,” Ramsey said. “This has to do with your car.”

Last year’s version of the bill was backed by the National Rifle Association, which in turn blamed House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart for the measure’s ultimate failure. The NRA and other gun advocates later bankrolled a successful effort to oust Maggart in her GOP primary.

Bill Ozier, chairman of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the panel that the proposal is better than last year’s because it is limited to permit holders and includes extra liability protections for businesses.

But Ozier said his group is also working with some House members on an alternate bill that gives “rights to handgun permit holders and also protects the employers’ rights.” He said the bill hasn’t been introduced yet.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, also applauded the extra liability protections, but said she wants to see what the final shape of the bill is before saying whether she can support it. Harwell last year voiced support for businesses and educational institutions to be able to post firearms bans on their property.

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