Chamber goes silent on guns in parking lots law

Hank Hayes • Aug 5, 2013 at 3:24 PM

KINGSPORT — Call it a verbal cease-fire.

At last Tuesday’s Kingsport Chamber of Commerce legislative barbecue, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) President Catherine Glover highlighted this year’s pro-business legislative accomplishments, including workers’ compensation reform.

One topic, however, was intentionally left out of her talk to about 150 business leaders at the barbecue held at the Kingsport Farmers Market.

“I’m not going to talk about guns in parking lots,” Glover told the crowd.

Glover was referring to a new law allowing people with a state-issued handgun carry permit to transport and store a loaded firearm in public or private parking areas.

The law was sponsored in the state Senate by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), a longtime Second Amendment rights advocate.

A year ago, former TCCI President Deb Woolley led the organization against legislation that would have expanded public places where concealed firearms are allowed.

The legislation was pushed by the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA), but it failed.

“What we saw in Tennessee during 2012 was an effort to make Tennessee one of the more extreme states in the nation for allowing most anyone to publicly transport firearms in a personally owned vehicle,” Woolley wrote in a TCCI newsletter issued last summer. “For those in the legislature who stood with the collective voice of reason to keep Tennessee a jobs-friendly state, it is important that we as the business community speak out with our voices, our pocketbooks and our media. We owe it to them.”

But the failed bill’s aftermath resulted in political repercussions during the 2012 election cycle — namely the GOP primary defeat of Republican House Caucus Chair Debra Maggart, who was targeted by TFA and viewed as not allowing the legislation to come to a floor vote.

Following Glover’s remarks at the chamber barbecue, Ramsey nodded when asked if employers have decided to stop complaining about the new law.

Ramsey also said he continues to take issue with Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s written opinion saying the new law does not prohibit an employer from terminating someone legally transporting a handgun in a locked vehicle.

Cooper determined the new law only decriminalizes storing a weapon in a permit holder’s privately owned vehicle in public and private parking areas under defined circumstances.

Cooper also pointed out the law does not address and has no impact on the employment relationship between an employer and an employee.

The state of Tennessee “has long adhered to the employment-at-will doctrine,” said Cooper.

Ramsey agrees Tennessee is an “at-will” employment state.

“You can let somebody go at any time for no reason,” Ramsey said. “But if you actually let them go for a reason and tell them that, that it is for a legal or a constitutional right, you’re opening yourself up to a lawsuit. I still agree the bill we passed was good. I’m sure someone will come back next year, not me, but there will be a legislator to come back and create a right of employees to carry their gun in a car.”

For more about TCCI, go to www.tnchamber.org.

For more about the new law, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. It is Public Chapter 16.

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