NRA wants Tennessee guns bill on the legislative floor

photo An exterior view of the Tennessee State Capitol building.

NASHVILLE - The National Rifle Association calls state House and Senate Republican leaders' efforts to block employers from banning firearms in their parking lots a "perversion of the representative democracy."

In a letter distributed to all 99 House members Thursday, the politically powerful gun-rights group said it will grade lawmakers on whether they get behind efforts to bring the legislation to the legislative floor.

Trying to put the bills on the floor will be "weighed more heavily in our grading process than a vote against the bill on the floor," NRA lobbyist Darren LaSorte said in the letter.

The effort appears to be an attempt to get the House to suspend its rules, bypass its Calendar and Rules Committee and bring the bills directly to the floor if necessary. It takes 66 votes, or two-thirds of the House membership, to suspend rules.

The letter also invites minority Democrats, some of whom oppose the bills, to support efforts to get them to the floor for a vote.

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If the bills make it that far, Republicans would be pinned between two of their most powerful constituencies - the NRA and business groups - which are at each others' throats over the legislation.

Business groups and individual companies, including Volkswagen in Chattanooga and Memphis-based FedEx, charge that the two bills violate their property rights and pose safety threats.

The NRA and other advocates say the "Safe Commute Act" will ensure gun owners' safety to and from work. One bill strips businesses, schools and colleges of the right to ban weapons, while the other bars employers from discriminating against workers who bring guns.

The legislation was scheduled to be heard Thursday in the House Calendar and Rules Committee, its final hurdle before a floor vote. But sponsor Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, did not show up and the legislation was delayed until next week.

Companion bills have passed through all major Senate committees. But Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he wants changes and will keep the bills off the floor. Gov. Bill Haslam agrees they need more work to address employers' concerns.

In his letter, LaSorte called the maneuvers "perversion of the representative democracy intended to benefit the citizens."

He wrote that the NRA "has a duty" to its "tens of thousands" of Tennessee members "to inform them of how their concerns are represented by their elected officials."