NASHVILLE - Volkswagen Chattanooga's security chief told state senators Tuesday that the company is "very concerned" with National Rifle Association-drafted legislation that would let gun owners store guns in their locked vehicles on employers' parking lots despite companies' wishes.
The two bills "would take away our right to control our property and interfere with our ability to take necessary actions to ensure the safety of all our employees," Reid Albert, VW's general manager of security, told Senate Commerce Committee members.
Albert and representatives of some of Tennessee's biggest employers, including FedEx, are objecting to two bills dealing with guns on parking lots.
Collectively, they said, the companies employ more than 1 million people.
The issue has developed into a major confrontation between two of the Republican-controlled General Assembly's key constituencies on two basic fundamental issues: Businesses argue the bills violate their private property rights. The NRA and other advocacy groups say the issue comes down to Second Amendment gun rights and weapons stored in people's private, locked vehicles.
"The business community wants to be able to ban law-abiding Americans from keeping lawfully owned firearms stored in their vehicles," said Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Affairs in a letter Monday to Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell and GOP Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey. "Their motivation is to protect their bottom line."
In the Commerce Committee, Tennessee Paper Council President Tom Midyett told lawmakers, "You need to take emotion out of this issue. ... [You] don't need to infringe further on the property rights of our employers."
Albert warned that the presence of firearms increases the potential for gun violence in highly emotional arenas like worker dismissals.
"Gun violence in the workplace is a real and ever-present threat," he said. "A law which prevents an employer from addressing this situation hinders my ability to protect the lives of all employees at Volkswagen Chattanooga."
The bill that came up in Commerce gives gun owners the right to sue and collect monetary awards if a business or public agency prohibits anyone - whether an employee or not - from keeping guns in their locked vehicles parked on an owners' property.
That includes universities, hospitals, nuclear processing facilities, airports and transportation companies like railroads.
It also prevents employers from asking job applicants or employees whether they own, transport or keep guns in their vehicles.
Senate Commerce Committee members delayed action until next week.
The other bill, later heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, prohibits businesses or employers - private or public - from establishing or enforcing rules banning storage of guns in vehicles.
Action on that bill also was delayed until next week. Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, is sponsor of both measures.
Second Amendment advocates say their "Employee Safe Commute" legislation is necessary to protect gun owners from robbery and violence.
GOP legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam are scrambling to find a compromise. The NRA and Tennessee Firearms Association have attacked a separate bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, modeled after a Georgia law that narrows the legislation's scope.
Earlier in the day, Haslam told reporters he still hopes legislators balance competing rights.
"This is one area where Republicans believe in property rights and they believe in Second Amendment rights," he said. "Getting the balance right is important."