Tennessee's far-right legislators in cahoots with the National Rifle Association are wrongly pushing for the latest piece of the NRA's guns-everywhere agenda -- a new state law that would require both public and private employers to allow their workers to keep their locked and loaded guns in cars in their employer-provided parking lots. Employers, mindful of this nation's tragic history of armed and angry employees who charge into the workplace to shoot, kill and wound fellow employees, reasonably oppose the law. The state's saner GOP leaders in the Legislature and the governor's office are locked in a stalemate, and in search of a compromise.
Here's the problem: The NRA and its lackey legislators don't want a compromise. The NRA just wants its way.
The NRA and its legislative lackeys are used to winning. As in other states, they've gotten Tennessee's controlling Republicans, aided by some scared Democrats, to accept newly every new piece rolled out by the NRA in its national guns-everywhere agenda.
Gun-carry advocates have won gun-carry rights -- concealed or visible -- in national parks, state and county parks, and local parks in consenting municipalities; in bars that serve alcohol, and in most public spaces.
And they're continually pushing the envelope. Some want school teachers, professors and even students on college campuses to be able to carry guns to class. They're also working for broad reciprocity of gun-carry rights with other states under the sway of the NRA, so people with gun-carry permits can claim gun-rights in other states when they travel -- never mind that some states require little or no background tests or training.
Tennessee's largest employers, collectively employing more than one million Tennessee workers, and including FedEx and Volkswagen here, rightly oppose the proposed law to allow workers to store their loaded guns in employee parking lots. They also oppose a companion bill that would give gun owners the right to sue employers and most any other agency or institution for monetary damages for blocking employees' rights to store their guns in their employers' parking lots or lots owned by other agencies.
As VW's general manager of security, Reid Albert, told Senate Commerce Committee members on Tuesday, "gun violence in the workplace is a real and ever-present threat." Passage of the law would jeopardize employers' rights to control their property, he said, would "interfere with our ability to take necessary actions to ensure the safety of all our employees." His view is self-evident.
The increasingly vitriolic controversy (one leading gun-rights advocate said state leaders seeking a compromise were "an axis of evil") shouldn't be hard to resolve in the public interest.
The current gun-friendly U.S. Supreme Court, which proclaimed a personal right under the Second Amendment for citizens to own guns in its 2008 landmark 5-4 decision overturning Washington, D.C.'s district-wide gun ban, emphasized in that ruling the legitimacy of government rights to prohibit carrying guns in sensitive public places and to establish reasonable gun-control regulations.
Thus the state's and employers' interest in protecting their own property rights clearly has legal weight. The Legislature should respect that balance, and block laws that would bestow unbridled rights to gun owners at great risk to the common public good. The question is whether the Legislature will at last recognize such reasonable boundaries on gun carry.
Hanging in the balance, of course, is not just public safety. Also at stake is the state's ability to attract new businesses, national and foreign, that believe a balance must be observed. If the Legislature can't bring itself to protect broad public interests, it will jeopardize our job base, and public safety.