Haslam: Policy allowing guns in new Tennessee legislative complex doesn't extend into state Capitol

Haslam: Policy allowing guns in new Tennessee legislative complex doesn't extend into state Capitol

November 2nd, 2017 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam speaks during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee during a hearing to discuss ways to stabilize health insurance markets, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Tennesseans with valid, state-issued handgun carry permits will be able to take their weapons into the General Assembly's new home in the Cordell Hull Building, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, and House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Wednesday.

The speakers, both Republicans, said in a joint statement on the new policy that permit holders "are among the most law-abiding demographics in our state."

In order to obtain a state permit, the speakers said, a citizen "must be fingerprinted, submit to a background check and receive firearm training."

Nearly 600,000 Tennesseans 21 and older held handgun carry permits as of last month, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security website.

Harwell and McNally's announcement comes as state representatives, senators and staffers began this week relocating from the General Assembly's residence in Legislative Plaza and the War Memorial Building to the freshly renovated Cordell Hull Building.

In addition to housing lawmakers and staffers, Cordell Hull will be home to committee hearing rooms and committee staffs. It will open officially to the public later.

According to McNally and Harwell, permit holders wanting to carry their guns into Cordell Hull will be required to present their permits at security checkpoints.

A "thorough screening process will determine the validity of the permit," the speakers noted in a news release.

Once a permit holder's legal authority to be armed publicly is established, he or she "will be allowed to exercise their Second Amendment right while visiting their state government," the speakers said in their statement.

Or, at least, they will in the Cordell Hull building.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's administration, which opposed earlier efforts to let permit holders bring weapons in the sprawling Capitol complex, still won't allow guns into the Capitol proper — which houses the governor's office as well as the House and Senate chambers.

"The General Assembly has control over the operations of Cordell Hull," Haslam press secretary Jennifer Donnals said in an email. "The governor's position regarding the State Capitol has not changed and guns will continue to be prohibited inside the Capitol building."

Instead, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security will be setting up a screening checkpoint before visitors reach elevators taking people to the Capitol itself, a legislative official said. Spokesmen for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which provides Capitol complex security, did not respond to an email request for an explanation.

The Haslam administration in 2016 cited security concerns about allowing the public to carry guns in Legislative Plaza, which is linked by tunnel to the state Capitol.

Cordell Hull is linked to the Capitol as well, but the General Assembly has complete control of Cordell Hull.

Harwell is running for the Republican nomination for governor and has gotten crosswise on several occasions with groups advocating gun-carry expansion.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, said he has concerns.

Moreover, he noted, "the speakers have 24-hour security. The public and the staff and the members don't."

In the past, Fitzhugh said, concerns were voiced by a number of lawmakers about allowing permit holders to come armed into a building where emotions can run high.

"Sometimes you meet irate constituents or individuals who are upset about something," the leader said.

And with guns allowed in Cordell Hull and not the Capitol, Fitzhugh said, "we're going to have to disarm going into the tunnel. Now, that looks to me like they're going to have a lot more security involved."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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