NASHVILLE — House Speaker Kent Williams said Monday he is hesitant to let Tennessee’s estimated 220,000 state handgun-carry permit holders bring loaded firearms into the Legislative Plaza and Capitol, but Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey voiced support for the idea.
Noting he has supported all bills this year expanding where permit holders can go, Speaker Williams said he isn’t sure letting them go armed at the Capitol is a good idea.
“I don’t think I support that one because I would have been shot Jan. 13,” Speaker Williams said, later chuckling ruefully. “It’d be hard for me to support that one. I don’t know, we’ve got security here. We got a tremendous amount of security here so I don’t think a citizen would need a handgun.”
An Elizabethton Republican, Rep. Williams on Jan. 13 combined the votes of all 49 Democrats with his own to beat House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower in the speaker’s race. The maneuver threw the chamber and gallery into pandemonium with angry shouts and even threats.
Speaker Williams said he thinks the Capitol complex is different from pending bills allowing permit holders to go armed in parks and at establishments, including bars, selling alcohol, provided they do not drink.
In addition to citing security, he said at the Capitol “you got political (dynamics), you get tempers.”
Lt. Gov. Ramsey, the Senate speaker, said he didn’t realize it would only take the two speakers to agree to remove signs banning weapons and let permit holders go armed at Legislative Plaza and the second floor of the Capitol.
“Honestly I’d be willing to take down those signs if that’s what we needed to do to make sure that happens,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said.
He called problems with permit holders, who undergo criminal background checks and must complete an eight-hour training course, “statistically ... insignificant.”
“According to the NRA, handgun carry permit holders are more responsible with their firearms than police officers. ... Yes, absolutely I believe that,” Lt. Gov. Ramsey said, later noting his statement refers to injuries involving off-duty police officers.
Last month, the House rejected an amendment allowing permit holders to bring their firearms into the Legislative Plaza and second floor of the Capitol where the House and Senate chambers are.
But Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris said it would only take the speakers’ agreement to remove posted signs banning guns, he said.
Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, recalled the decision to ban guns was a “joint decision” between himself and then-Lt. Gov. John Wilder, D-Mason, in the 1990s.
If handguns are allowed in, “I guess I’ll have to pack mine,” said Rep. Naifeh, one of 34 lawmakers licensed to go armed, records show.
“I’d hate to think of people having guns up here,” Rep. Naifeh said, citing an angry mass protest in 2002 at the Capitol over a proposed state income tax.
In action Monday night:
n Senators approved 26-3 and approved Senate Bill 1092, which would ban local governments from requiring restaurants to post calorie counts or other nutritional information on menus. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul Stanley, R-Germantown, was introduced after Nashville adopted a rule requiring calorie counts on menus.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said local officials should be free to make the decisions. But Sen. Stanley fretted over “unelected officials” making decisions.
A House subcommittee already has rejected Gov. Phil Bredesen’s bill requiring chains with 20 or more restaurants to post calorie counts.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...