Proposed Tennessee bill would eliminate ability of businesses to prohibit firearms on premises

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / A sign by the door of the Westbound Honky Tonk, on Station Street, prohibits weapons inside the business. The photograph was made on Monday.

NASHVILLE — A pending Tennessee bill eliminating the right of private individuals, businesses and governmental entities to prohibit the possession of firearms or other weapons on property they own or control has businesses alarmed.

Senate Judiciary Committee members ran out of time Monday before getting to Senate Bill 1037, sponsored by Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntington, as they debated other measures including several other bills presented by Stevens, an attorney.

The bill seeks to eliminate the offense of possessing a gun or other weapon in a building or on property where there is signage posted stating that weapons possession is prohibited on the premises. It includes local, state and federal buildings.

"We have concerns with that one," Tennessee Chamber of Commerce President Bradley Jackson said Monday in a phone interview, "although it still didn't get to the biggest issue for us."


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Jackson said that with Tennessee being an employment-at-will state, employers can say that as a condition of employment someone cannot carry a firearm while working.

"The bill did not go that far, but it still said that even if you have invitees in you cannot determine the policies of your personal property," Jackson said. "So we did have a few concerns about that.

"It just sets such a unique precedent, and I think businesses want to set the conditions of their private property, especially in a workplace environment," Jackson said. "Safety is the most important issue. They want to make sure people are safe and be able to kind of control their personal property. You know, it's an ongoing debate around personal property vs. Second Amendment and everything."

Jackson said he has more concern about another bill expected to come back before the House Civil Justice Committee on Wednesday -- House Bill 1005, sponsored by Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, and also sponsored by Stevens as Senate Bill 1503.

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Among bill provisions is a section authorizing holders of state concealed and enhanced handgun carry permits to carry any firearm that the permitholder legally owns or possesses in any place or manner already authorized for handguns.

It eliminates the criminal offense of possession of a firearm or club with intent to go armed. Other provisions include reducing from 21 to 18 the minimum age required for a person to obtain an enhanced, lifetime concealed handgun carry permit.

"It just sets such a unique precedent," Jackson said. "Business owners want control. Safety is one of their most important issues. They want to make sure people are safe."

The bill was debated at length in the House Civil Justice Committee last week with the panel eventually running out of time.

Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris said by phone Monday evening that the bill is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, overturning a New York gun safety law. The court ruled that New York's law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons in public places is unconstitutional.

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"The main thing this bill does is bring Tennessee into a lot closer compliance with the Bruen decision," said Harris, who supports the bill. "It will primarily move Tennessee from a handgun permit to a firearms permit. It also would statutorily make all 18-21 years able to get firearms."

That's currently limited to 18-20 in the military or with military services. An agreed order is pending before a U.S. District Court judge in Knoxville between Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti and a California guns rights group that says the state's law regarding ages 18-20 is unconstitutional.

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