Opinion: Tennessee gun bill supporters want everything, everywhere all at once

Staff Photo By Olivia Ross / A "No Firearms Allowed" sign is posted in the window of the In-Town Gallery on Frazier Avenue.

"Everything Everywhere All at Once" was the Best Picture winner in Sunday's 95th Academy Awards, but it also appears to describe what some Tennessee legislators want the state's gun policies to be.

Two gun bills discussed in state Senate or House committees this week would 1) remove the authorization for public or private businesses to prohibit weapons in their entities, and 2) would allow permit holders of state concealed or enhanced handgun carry permits to carry any gun the permit holder legally possesses to any place where handguns already are permitted.

We'll call them the "everywhere" and "everything" bills, respectively.

The history of this page is one which looks askance at many regulations on private businesses. We think telling businesses that do not want guns on their premises that they must allow them is absolutely wrongheaded.

We further feel that permitting even proper gun permit holders to carry around any gun they legally own, such as shotguns, rifles or AR-15s, may induce fear, provocations and accidents.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was to discuss the "everything" bill -- SB1503, allowing any gun to be carried to places where they are legally permitted by those who legally possess them -- on Tuesday. The House Civil Justice Committee discussed the companion measure, HB1005, last week before running out of time.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee was to have discussed the "everywhere" bill -- HB0746, removing the authorization to prohibit guns in public or private entities -- on Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee was to have discussed the companion measure, SB1037, on Monday but ran out of time.

Currently, Alaska, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin require private businesses to post signs if they have gun prohibitions on their premises. If our reading of state laws is correct on the "everywhere" bill, were it to pass both houses of the legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee, Tennessee would become one of very few states, if not the only state, where private businesses could not prohibit guns.

The "everywhere" bill has at least one provision we don't believe can stand scrutiny. It removes the authorization for a federal government entity to prohibit the possession of weapons on that entity.

We don't believe it will stand because federal law already prohibits the possession of firearms and other dangerous weapons in federal facilities by all but persons (such as police, security guards, members of the armed forces, etc.) specifically authorized to have them.

Sponsors of the "everywhere" bill may believe a lack of previous prosecution in Tennessee for bringing a weapon to a place of business where one is not permitted indicates removing the prohibitions would have little or no effect.

In the fiscal note for the bill, it is noted that, based on information from the Administrative Office of the Courts, in the past five fiscal years, there has only been one conviction for such an offense; "therefore, any fiscal impact related to eliminating this offense is estimated to be not significant."

Nevertheless. we believe it should be the purview of employers to determine the safety of their employees and those who come to their businesses, so if their businesses will be safer if people don't bring in firearms, they ought to be able to make that decision.

That is akin to what Tennessee Chamber of Commerce President Bradley Jackson told this newspaper's Andy Sher.

"I think businesses want to set the conditions of their private property, especially in a workplace environment," he 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."

The "everything" bill also reduces the minimum age for a person to obtain an enhanced, lifetime, concealed handgun carry permit from 21 to 18.

Although the numbers don't tell how the guns were obtained, 19.4% of the gun crimes in Tennessee from 2017 to 2021 were committed by people ages 21 and below, most of whom could not legally own the gun used in the crime. That figure alone from the Tennessee report of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is reason enough not to pass the bill.

John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, in a blog for the organization last week, did not seem especially upbeat about the prospects of pro-Second Amendment legislation in this year's session.

"Most of them," he wrote of bills discussed during a hearing last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, "were being opposed by representatives from the Tennessee Department of Safety and other administrative branches under the leadership of Governor Bill Lee. Unfortunately, many anticipate that this year the Senate Judiciary committee is extremely 'unfriendly' (as it typically has been in the past) to true Second Amendment legislation even without the urging of Bill Lee's administration."

We hope he's right.