NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he doesn't expect bills doing away with public and private employers' right to ban firearms on their parking lots will pass the Legislature, although the measures were approved by a House committee.
"I know it's not acceptable to me and I don't think it is to the [House] speaker or the lieutenant governor, as well," Haslam said. "I just don't think it will make its way through the committees and get voted on and approved on the floor."
But gun-rights proponents say they intend to bring new pressure to bear on legislative leaders in their quest to let state handgun-carry permit holders store their guns in vehicles parked on company parking lots as well as at public and private K-12 schools and colleges and universities.
The amended National Rifle Association-drafted measures, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, were approved by the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee on voice votes.
The "Employee Safe Commute" legislation has generated an epic battle between private employers and gun-rights advocates. Employers, including Volkswagen in Chattanooga, say the measures violate their property rights and jeopardize employee safety.
"That's a sort of thing that makes us a bit nervous," Volkswagen Chairman and CEO Frank Fischer told The Associated Press on Monday.
Advocates say their right to self-protection is jeopardized when they can't store weapons in locked vehicles on public and private parking lots.
Bass amended one of his bills Tuesday to restrict its application to handgun-carry permit holders. The original bill applied to anyone with a lawfully owned gun.
The second bill prohibits employers from asking current and prospective workers questions about gun ownership, whether they are licensed to carry a handgun and where they carry it.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said the bills have been "improved a little bit," but they remain too broad and "there's still a whole lot of work to be done."
"I'd be in favor of taking this up over the summer and fall [in a study committee] and coming back next year to work out a compromise bill," McCormick said. "I hope that's what happens. That's what I'll be working for, [but] it's hard to predict."
During the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee meeting, businesses and universities, who oppose the legislation, squared off with an NRA lobbyist and a FedEx employee who argued vehemently in favor of it.
"Our highest calling is the safety and security of our campuses," said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Roger Brown, speaking on behalf of public and private colleges and universities across the state. "We believe the current Tennessee laws are adequate to allow those persons who need to be gun carriers to possess firearms."
UTC has 12,000 students and 1,100 employees in "a very open environment," Brown said, noting that a middle school and high school are near one end of the campus and a daycare center and elementary school border the south side.
"We simply cannot afford any risk that those students, faculty, staff or neighboring institutions be at risk from intentional or accidental risk of firearms," Brown said.
NRA lobbyist Darren LaSorte criticized opposition and singled out Memphis-based FedEx, which has been among the most vehement opponents. LaSorte portrayed Memphis a dangerous place where violence is rampant and citizens' best recourse is self protection when they commute to and from work.
"FedEx has 15,000 employees in Memphis, the second most violent city in America according to the FBI violent crime stats, the No. 1 rape rate in the country [for] large cities over 500,000," he said. "FedEx disarms their employees that entire time. That is unconscionable."
FedEx employee Sam Cooper, a long-time advocate of the right to bring his weapon to and from work, said, "we've been arguing property rights and we've been placing property rights arguments over the fact of why I need to carry the weapon in the first place.
"I want to go home alive," he said.
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, ...