Republican Speakers of Tennessee House, Senate disagree on whether to allow guns in Tennessee Capitol complex

Republican Speakers of Tennessee House, Senate disagree on whether to allow guns in Tennessee Capitol complex

February 17th, 2016 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell

POLL: Should concealed guns be allowed in the Legislative Plaza?

NASHVILLE - Plans to let state handgun-carry permit holders carry their weapons in the Tennessee Capitol complex misfired Wednesday amid apparent disagreement between Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell over how to proceed.

Tennessee Highway Patrol officials wanted the two top officials to be in agreement before they would consider proceeding, according to Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider. 

"They did not agree," said Kleinheider, who wouldn't elaborate.

Harwell's spokeswoman, Kara Owen, said that from Harwell's "point of view, it's simply an issue of saving taxpayer dollars as the modifications to the building would have a cost associated with them."

Owen noted Harwell realizes "we're not going to be in this building [Legislative Plaza] much longer" with the General Assembly planning on moving in a few years from Legislative Plaza and the adjacent War Memorial Building to the now-vacant Cordell Hull State Office Building.

Because there were expected costs for "things that had to be done" in order to make Legislative Plaza and the Capitol physically capable of handling the situation, Owen said the speaker thought it best to wait until lawmakers are ensconced in Cordell Hull.

Haslam and Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who oversees the THP which provides security at Legislative Plaza, War Memorial and the state Capitol building, have been opposed to allowing permit holders to bring their weapons into the complex. 

While Ramsey has said the intent was not to let permit holders into the Capitol itself,  the governor and commissioner said the logistics would be difficult given Legislative Plaza is connected to the Capitol via an underground tunnel.

Gibbons also told reporters last week that four state laws give the administration control over Legislative Plaza and War Memorial. Ramsey says the speakers control the buildings and his aide, Kleinheider, has cited the Tennessee Constitution as grounds for that. 

Earlier Wednesday, Haslam told reporters "the Capitol is a secure environment. You got to go through metal detectors. We have armed guards there. The Tennessee Highway Patrol, which is in charge of security there, feels like this is the best answer for safety in the state."

He said he would be willing to go along with the proposal if THP officials sign off on the security aspect. 

Meanwhile, Haslam denied assertions by legislative Democrats that he's considering outsourcing security within the Capitol complex to private companies.

"I don't know where they got that," the governor said.


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