Tennessee's legislators generally don't worry much about the social impact of widening gun rights in the state. Despite the solid opposition of law enforcement officials who fear more gun violence, lawmakers have made it legal for gun-permit holders to carry guns into state parks and, subject to local approval, into local parks and into bars where alcohol is sold. They've also considered allowing gun-carry rights in churches.
Now, they're pushing for the next round of the National Rifle Association's guns-everywhere agenda: allowing employees to bring guns to work and to leave them in their vehicles in their employers' parking lots. On this specific issue, however, the business lobby is rightly balking.
Owners of companies are obviously aware of the nation's dreadful recent history of angry, aggrieved employees walking out their company's door and roaring back in with pistols or assault rifles blazing -- killing or wounding several or more fellow employees. Such horrific tragedies have enormous costs, both in the shattered lives of affected employees and their families, and in the related losses to businesses. They also raise the risk of employers' severe financial liability for allowing employees to bring guns onto their parking lots.
The NRA apparently isn't concerned about employers' liability concerns, never mind the prospect of multimillion-dollar lawsuits for employers who fail to take due diligence steps to keep guns off their property. Its lapdogs in the Legislature seem to buy the NRA's sales pitch, which describes the pending bill that would open the door for gun-packing employees as the "employee safe commute act."
The NRA view and that of its unthinking foot soldiers, of course, rests on the notion that gun rights that end at the employers' lot would effectively limit the right of gun-carriers to carry their weapons between work and home. And since they've successfully intruded guns more broadly into the public domain in so many Republican roll-over states in recent years, they think nothing of trying to roll-over sound objections to their guns-everywhere agenda.
The guns-in-parking-lots bill now before the Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Kingsport, and Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, for example, would extend the parking-lot right to gun owners who don't have gun-carry permits. Hello?
Businesses' objections fortunately have more legislators aware of the potential downside of workers with quick access to the guns. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who sponsored the state's original handgun-carry permit law, wants to restrict the proposed law by allowing only those with gun-carry permits to carry guns into allowed employer-owned parking lots, and by excluding such rights in secured employer parking lots. "I understand private property rights, and I understand certain parking lots where they (guns) shouldn't be," he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam, as well, agrees that the proposed law is "overly broad." So does House Speaker Beth Harwell, who says the proposed law goes "way beyond" what was anticipated. She says she'll hold out for a "business friendly" law. "We're not in the business of doing anything to harm the businesses that we currently have in place in Tennessee," she asserted.
Isn't that great? Police officials, bar owners and many bar patrons didn't want guns allowed in bars that serve alcohol, and most Tennesseans didn't want to allow the practice of legally carrying guns in local and state parks. But public interests didn't matter. Business interests matter to Republicans, however, and that's where they draw the line.