NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday it's too early to know if he would veto a controversial "guns-in-parking lots" measure should it pass, noting he continues to study its impact on schools, colleges and universities.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, will be on the Senate floor next week. It would allow handgun-carry permit holders to store firearms in their locked vehicles parked on most public and private lots in Tennessee.
The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, 8-0. Before that, Haslam met in his office with Ramsey and GOP panel members.
On Wednesday, the governor didn't respond directly when asked if he had sought changes to the bill in that closed-door meeting.
"The meeting yesterday was, 'Tell me what we do now and tell me how this would change things,'" Haslam said. "I have said all along that education institutions are a concern of mine. And I'm trying to understand, again, what's the reality now and how this would change."
Proponents argue the National Rifle Association-backed bill would have little effect on K-12 and higher education. They say the law already allows "nonstudent adults" to keep guns in their vehicles on school and university campuses.
Anthony Haynes, UT's vice president for governmental affairs, recently said that interpretation appears correct. But the bill would impact students and UT employees.
Haslam said he "didn't know that right now on campuses if you're a nonstudent adult, even without a permit, you can have whatever you want in your car right now. So I'm learning a lot about what the current law is and what this would do to change it, to compare what the reality is with maybe what your perspective is."
Businesses fought the legislation to a standstill last year. The NRA then decided to make an example out of one House GOP leader, Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, and spent lavishly in a successful effort to beat her.
Republican legislative leaders were initially angry, but Ramsey, who was coming under increasing fire from gun advocates, decided to sponsor a version himself.
"This is about me doing what I think is right," Ramsey told reporters last month. "It has nothing to do with the NRA. None at all."
He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that "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 AP he sought 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."
The issue has pitted two key GOP constituencies, gun advocates and businesses, against each other.
Second Amendment proponents say bans by employers, government agencies and businesses on guns being stored in vehicles parked on their lots infringes on their ability to defend themselves going to and from work.
Businesses say the legislation is an infringement on their property rights and interferes with their attempts to maintain safety. Volkswagen, which has an assembly plant in Chattanooga, strongly opposed last year's version of the bill.
Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman Bill Ozier told senators Tuesday businesses still oppose the bill. But he also said businessmen were pleased that the bill's application now applies only to handgun-carry permit holders and not every gun owner.