Guns and Parking Lots Bill Has Arrived
The guns-in-parking-lots bill was approved by the Tennessee state Senate on 11 February 2013 and will come into effect on 1 July 2013. It lets handgun-carry permit (or HCP) holders in Tennessee keep their firearms in cars that are parked on virtually all public and private parking lots. The latter also include parking lots in college and school campuses (Locker). This paper examines the background for the new legislature and explores the arguments for and against the bill expressed in due course of a 4-year debate preceding the bill approval.
Firearms in Tennessee
According to the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, this state’s citizens “have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime” (Constitution of the State of Tennessee). The regulation of arms implies the ban on arms possession “with an intent to go armed”. Those people who have obtained handgun-carry permits are not subject to the prohibition. According to the legislation, the lawful use of firearms generally includes hunting and home defense.
Tennessee is known to be “a shall issue” state, which means that people are required to get licenses if they wish to carry their guns loaded both openly or in a concealed manner. The residents of Tennessee who have already turned 21 are allowed to be given a permit for 4 years on the basis of the Department of Public Safety issuance. Yet, the HCP is only issued if the person who applied for it meets particular qualifications. The person to get a permit must be not prohibited from firearms possession or carrying by the state or federal laws and qualify as a “permanent lawful resident”. Non-residents in Tennessee are not given permits. To obtain these, they need to get regular employment within the state. For non-residents who qualify as such, the Tennessee permit is still essential despite the fact they may have permits from their home states. This rule does not work if Tennessee has a reciprocity agreement with the state the applicants represent.
To obtain the permit, individuals are required to successfully complete the training organized by the Department of Public Safety, known as “TDS-approved handgun safety course”, and submit the proof of the latter (Concealed Weapons Permitting In Tennessee). People, who have got the permission to carry guns, may carry them around in most places not to include building for public recreation, campuses, or civic centers. In addition, handgun-carry permittees may be warned against carrying weapon by “no carry” signs placed by owners of a property in certain cases.
Prior to 2013, individuals with valid HCPs did not have a right for vehicle carry. Starting with 2013, when the new bill has been approved, 371, 000 permittees along with hundreds of thousands from other states whose issuance of HCP is recognized by Tennessee are allowed “to transport and store” firearms in their cars on virtually all private and public areas where the permittee may stay legally. The gun holders are obliged to keep the weapon out of view in case the holder stays in a vehicle, or keep it concealed within the car if the permittee is not in. The exceptions: the property and the grounds of single-family detached residences which are either tenant-occupied or owner-occupied; places in which guns are prohibited by the U.S. federal law (for example, TVA’s nuclear power plants or Oak Ridge National Laboratory) (Locker,).
Vehicle Carry Debate
The approval of the bill that permits to carry firearms in vehicles that are parked on virtually all public and private parking lots was preceded by a hot debate that had lasted for 4 years. Despite the fact the bill was approved “overwhelmingly”, as Sher reports, with all but 5 senators supporting it, many people were dissatisfied with the bill. In particular, many of Tennessee biggest employers remain opposed to the bill for a variety of reasons.
The supporters of the bill have been calling it “safe commute”. One of the staunchest supporters, John Harris, Tennessee Firearms Executive Director, says the bill will provide safe commute by allowing licensed gun holders to carry guns almost everywhere given they keep the guns concealed in their cars. He asserts, “this is about leaving the weapon secured in your own vehicle in the parking lot, or parking garage, it has nothing to do with getting the gun out of the car taking it into the classroom, stadium, campus or cafeteria” (Bundgaard). Harris objects to exemption for school premises or college campuses since, he says, any exclusion will violate the bill’s target which is to let licensed gun holders transport their weapon, which “effectively disarms them going to the grocery store, picking up their kids after school” (Bundgaard). Harris has another argument: the individual’s car is a property item just the same as the real estate. Similarly, Senator Mike Faulk, known as “the bill sponsor”, says that the bill is about being able to defend yourself and protect yourself when going to work or coming back from work (Mitchell). Also, the supporters of the bill assert that its passage will handle discrimination against holders of gun permits by their employers.
One of the biggest opposing forces is Tennessee colleges and universities. Also, many large employers and business leaders are against the bill and have urged Tennessee lawmakers not to approve it. Specifically, one of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March 2012 gathered lots of business leaders from private universities and hospitals who expressed their fears about the new bill. They said vehicle carry should be prohibited given the complexity of situations at work. Namely, when people have their jobs at stake, they may become too emotional. Same applies to love triangles that may form among employees. If people get an easy access to weapon, the risk of getting seriously hurt or killed is much higher than if they are to fight using a stick or their hands, or even a pocket knife (Mitchell).Webb Sanderson, the manager and marketing director of Ray’s ESG Sports Bar, is opposed to the bill because it does not provide an option to ban guns from private businesses’ parking lots. Mixing alcohol and drugs by clients, with reference to his business, places employees in dangerous situations (Scot). Thelma Harper, a Senator D-Nashville, remained opposed to the bill along with Senators Kyle and Reginald Tate, Douglas Henry, and Charlotte Burks. She thinks there is no ground for the legislature to be interested in gun bills’ passage, especially after Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings on 14 December 2012 in Connecticut, which took lives of 20 children and 6 grown-ups (Locker, “Tennessee Senate Approves Guns-In-Parking-Lots-Bill”).
To conclude, the guns-in-parking-lots bill remains a controversial issue with many citizens of Tennessee. It presents the conflict of personal safety, gun rights, and property rights. While many people reportedly support the bill, lots of citizens stay opposed to it. Besides, most employers have been against the bill. This is a good background not to let the bill become a law.