Interlude in gun rights

Interlude in gun rights

April 7th, 2012 in Opinion Times

The state Legislature's House members may continue to agitate for passage of the bill to allow gun owners to stow their guns in employers' parking lots. But State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has declared the controversial bill dead for the year.

Let's hope he's right. The National Rifle Association and the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council -- the background sponsors of this bill and others like it in state legislature across the country -- have intimidated, steered and jerked around lawmakers and Tennessee's citizenry far too much already. They should take a hit on this bill.

The irony of the bill's setback, to be sure, is that it springs from a rare disagreement between two of the most formidable pillars of the Republican-dominated Legislature's right-wing base: the NRA and the gun lobby, and big employers and corporations. If the state's biggest employers weren't so opposed to letting employees bring guns onto their property -- and if the state's Chamber of Commerce hadn't lobbied against the bill in behalf of employers and the hope of landing skittish future job creators -- the bill would have passed in a heartbeat, never mind the public interest in reducing the general presence of guns in a civil society.

Employers have good reason to fear giving employees a right to keep their guns in employers' parking lots. This nation has seen enough random shootings by angry employees raging through their place of work to frighten any sane employer. Small wonder prospective employers might refuse to locate in Tennessee if their private property interests weren't protected.

Advocates of the bill complain that employer bans on guns stored in their parking lots means they can't go armed on commutes to and from their jobs without lying about keeping their firearms in their car. Yet employees are not required to work for employers that ban guns. Neither are they denied their right to obtain a permit to carry a gun. So the premise that one person's rights can't impinge on another's rights still applies.

If employers in Tennessee can maintain their right to ban guns on their property -- why is this even a question? -- it could help quench the current crazy rush to allow guns in more and more public places, i.e., from bars and parks to churches and university campuses, to name a few more vulnerable areas of potential gun violence.

In any case, the gun-carry craze has already gone well beyond the rational boundaries that prevailed just five or ten years ago. Legislators have increasingly presumed the right to intrude guns into the public sphere, almost always despite huge public opposition. They had even widened the range of their guns-in-parking lots bill from applying just to those with gun-carry permits, to all gun owners with a hunting license -- a license that requires no background check, and that may be obtained through the bill for a few bucks.

Their excessive over-reaching killed any chance of compromise, but it allowed a reprieve from more gun privileges, at least for a year. Hopefully Tennessee's gun-happy legislators will use the pause to consider the risk the bill invites. They might remember why they still ban gun-carry rights in the halls and chambers of their own place of work in the Capitol.