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Staff File Photo by Dan Henry A shooter reloads his weapon at the gun range at The Shooter's Depot on April 28.
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The gun nuts have had their way with Tennessee lawmakers again this year.

Last week, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 71-14 to agree with a Senate amendment that makes it easier for gun rights groups to challenge "gun-free zones" on locally owned government property like parks, public buses and auditoriums.

The legislation is supported by the National Rifle Association, of course, and it gives gun rights groups a special bonus: If they abide by the "gun-free zone" sign and get injured (watch out for rogue squirrels) because — as they put it — they can't defend themselves, they can sue the city or county governments and win triple the amount of their costs.

To avoid being sued, governments that want a gun-free zone would be forced to buy metal detectors, hire security staff and check bags.

Have we mentioned that this insane legislation passed the House 71-14?

Have we mentioned that the NRA spends tens of thousands of dollars a year in Tennessee to parlay favor with our lawmakers? And in Tennessee, the NRA gets its money's worth. There is almost no place in the Volunteer State that a gun-toter can't go — campuses, parks, stores, streets, churches — are all open. And the result is predictable.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee House also passed a bill that would let people use silencers on their guns — anywhere.

That bill, the Tennessee Hearing Protection Act, was meant to protect sportsmen's hearing. Right. Here's the kicker: Silencers already are legal to use for hunting in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. Until now, however, silencers also carried that oh-so-onerous serial number, waiting period and $200 permit fee — and after all, hunters are terribly overburdened with regulations. Wink, wink, nod, nod.

What this ridiculous legislation really does is create extra gun shop sales — and make them faster, easier and more profitable.

The House also gave the silencer bill a hearty 74-18 vote, and the Senate had earlier passed both bills with flying colors, as well.

Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, said his gun-free zones bill was intended as a "hammer." If "the government will not protect you — you should be able to protect yourself if you're on local government property."

Exceptions include mental health facilities, state Department of Children's Services facilities, school property, property used for school activities, buildings where there are judicial proceedings, law enforcement buildings and several other classifications.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville and Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, argued the obvious in front of Times Free Press reporter Andy Sher last week: That this was bad legislation.

Yarbro said school children make 220,000 bus trips per month in Nashville and 50,000 trips in Chattanooga on public transportation. He warned it creates a conflict in existing laws on being armed around children.

"We're telling someone you're guilty of a Class E felony to carry [guns] around kids, yet if called on it, you get to sue," Yarbro said as he offered an amendment that was easily quashed by Republican senators.

But guess who voted for this bill: Our own Sens. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga; Bo Watson, R-Hixson; Mike Bell, R-Riceville; and Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.

It's all just the newest evidence yet that our lawmakers believe they owe the NRA more than they owe us — the public.

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