Tennessee and guns: Candidates for governor weigh in

Tennessee and guns: Candidates for governor weigh in

January 10th, 2010 by The Commercial Appeal in Politics State

PDF: Candidates speak out on the issues: Guns

PDF: Full Transcript

ABOUT THE SURVEY

The survey on gun issues was conducted via written questionnaires by The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. It is the first in a monthly series on issues in the 2010 governor's race. The surveys will be conducted by the Tennessee Newspaper Network, a collaborative newsgathering venture of the state's major newspapers, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press and papers in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville.

By Richard Locker

The Commercial Appeal

NASHVILLE - Tennesseans who support or oppose the expansion of gun rights, or who fall somewhere in between, likely will find candidates for governor this year who share their views.

A Tennessee Newspaper Network survey of the major candidates - four Republicans and three Democrats - shows candidates taking a range of positions on several gun issues up for debate at the Capitol after the General Assembly convenes Tuesday.

Those issues range from guns in bars, parks and college campuses to guns on employer-owned parking lots and in leased property. (The candidates' complete answers are online at timesfreepress.com.)

After years of slow progress in their efforts to expand gun rights, gun advocates scored victories with several new state laws in 2009, when Republicans won control of both houses of the legislature.

The new laws allowed nearly 250,000 Tennesseans with handgun-carry permits - and millions more issued by states whose carry permits are legally valid in Tennessee - to take their guns into places that serve alcohol and into all state, federal, city and county parks in Tennessee.

The new law allows city councils and county commissions to exempt some or all of their local parks from guns. Several - including Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville - exercised the "opt-out" provision to keep

local parks off-limits to guns.

But a Nashville judge declared the guns-inbars law unconstitutionally vague. Gun advocacy groups and their legislative supporters vow to pass a new law this year allowing guns in restaurants serving alcohol.

All seven major candidates expressed support for Second Amendment rights but differ sharply on guns-inbars and other issues.

Three Republicans - Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, of Blountville; and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, of Chattanooga, said they support renewing the gunsin-bars law.

The Democrats - Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, of Memphis; former House Democratic Leader Kim McMillan, of Clarksville; and Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, plus Republican Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons - expressed opposition to guns in places serving alcohol.

Some gun groups also want to repeal the "opt-out" provision of the guns-inparks law so that carry-permit holders may take their guns into all local parks regardless of local preferences.

Only one candidate - Lt. Gov. Ramsey - supports removing the authority of local elected officials to set policy on guns in local parks.

All seven favor tougher penalties and mandatory prison terms for gun crimes. But that's the only specific gun issue on which the candidates are unanimous. Their differing views do not always break along party lines.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey and Rep. Wamp favor allowing guns on campus, while Mr. Gibbons and all three Democrats said it's a bad idea.

All four Republicans - plus Democrat Jim Kyle - favor changing state law so that landlords cannot prohibit tenants from having guns in their leased property.

Candidates are divided over whether businesses should be allowed to ban employees from bringing guns onto company-owned property. A bill to allow gun-carry permit holders to keep their guns in locked cars on employee parking lots, regardless of company policy, failed in 2009 but will be debated again this year.

E-mail Richard Locker@ commercialappeal.com.