NASHVILLE — A bipartisan group of Tennessee senators on Monday unveiled legislation that sponsors hope will encourage firearms owners to buy gun safes by exempting those sales from state sales taxes.
Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, and Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said they're hopeful the legislation will curb accidental shootings by children who gain access to family weapons.
Tennessee last year ranked No. 1 nationwide among states with the highest number of accidental gun shooting incidents involving those under age 18, according to data compiled by the Children's Firearm Safety Alliance. There were 31 injuries and/or deaths in the state.
Roberts called it "common-sense legislation that will make gun safes more affordable and accessible to gun owners" while creating a "safer environment for children and hopefully prevent the heart-breaking tragedies that occur."
It should also prevent gun thefts, Kerry said.
Harris said he sees the legislation as having "two really big benefits," in terms of both deaths and accidental shootings.
"We know that most school shootings, for example, are because kids are able to find guns unsecured in their homes," he said. "This may put us on the [way] to solving some of those incidents."
Republicans and Democrats don't always see eye to eye when it comes to guns. Two years ago, GOP majority lawmakers refused to back a Democratic bill to penalize adults who leave loaded guns unattended and accessible to children in cases where the children get the weapons.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, was called "MaKayla's Law," named after an 8-year-old Jefferson County girl killed in 2015 by an 11-year-old boy because she wouldn't let him play with her puppy.
While the bill borrowed from National Rifle Association gun-safety recommendations, the powerful gun lobby opposed putting requirements in state law. It failed in a Senate committee.
Kyle, a co-sponsor of the safe sales tax exemption bill, said such shootings "are not accidents, they're preventable tragedies. And we know that safe storage does save lives."
She said that "we may not always agree on the solutions ... but we're in agreement that gun violence resulting from unsecured firearms is probably worthy of our attention."
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, a hunter and NRA member who opposed the MaKayla's Law bill, said "we are not here to take anyone's gun. We just want the safe storage."
Roberts said he began thinking of the sales tax exemption — at least four states including Massachusetts exempt gun safes from sales taxes — in conversations with NRA lobbyist Erin Luper, although it was not the specific approach she was considering.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland.
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