The latest "guns in cars" bill is before state lawmakers. This time, the bill calls for no exemptions.
On Tuesday afternoon, Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) presented the SB 0142 to the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of the bill's primary sponsor, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey.
The proposed bill states that valid handgun carry permit holders can carry and store their weapons in their vehicles in any public or private parking area. It does not call for any exemptions.
Sen. Johnson asked, "If you start exempting here and exempting here, it becomes somewhat of a slippery slope. And where do you stop?"
In years past, similar bills have failed to become law, but Johnson feels a specific focus on handgun carry permit holders could help it go all the way.
"Once we narrowed it down to just those people who have gone through that process, I think it made it a much simpler bill and easier to pass," he said.
If passed, the bill would allow those with valid handgun carry permits to have weapons secured in privately-owned vehicles in any parking area, including employer lots.
The language of the bill calls for civil liability protection for business or property owners if damages, injuries, or death result from the use of any weapon in a vehicle, unless the owner is somehow involved in the incident.
Although not specifically stated in the bill, Tuesday's committee discussion confirmed that business or property owners may post signs to prevent weapons being brought onto premises by non-permit holders or to prevent weapons being brought into a building regardless of permit status.
However, Johnson argued business or property owners can not prevent the more than 370,000 handgun carry permit holders in Tennessee from securing weapons in their vehicles.
"If they are denied to have that weapon, should they choose to have one in their automobile while at work, then they're denied the right to self protection to and from work," he said.
He added, "The general assembly has been very clear that Tennesseans deserve the right to self-protect if they're willing to go through legal steps to obtain a handgun carry permit."
Because the bill does not currently allow for exemptions, school campuses may be a fair handgun carry area.
"For us, it's isn't about where the car is. It's about who's car it is and have they obtained that gun carry permit," Johnson said.
It's an idea local university students are unsure about.
"I think that's definitely cause for concern. You don't know who's around," said Belmont student Kelly Street.
"I come from a rural area where it's the norm. Everybody has a gun because a lot of people hunt," said Belmont student Ross McReynolds. "I guess in a city, a nice area like this, there's no reason to have a concealed carry weapon."
For McReynolds, having guns secured in vehicles on campus does not make him feel safer.
"A lot of people have the perspective that gives you more protection, but when I think a society that has a lot of guns, that just seems more dangerous," he said.
The proposed bill could also potentially hurt businesses statewide.
Before Tuesday's vote, Chairman of Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry Bill Ozier spoke on behalf of companies across Tennessee including FedEx, Volkswagon, and Nissan. He advised the committee that many companies, especially those from overseas, are not used to the gun culture of Tennessee. He asked the committee not to pass the bill for fear of losing businesses and jobs.
"This is a subject that's important to them," he said. "And when they decide whether they're going to expand an existing operation or put in a new operation, they may look at another state that's not as gun-friendly."
Eight committee members voted in favor of the proposed bill. Senator Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis) declined to vote, after her request to delay the vote based on Ozier's comments was denied.
Following the vote Lt. governor Ramsey commented, saying, "I was pleased to see the Judiciary Committee vote nearly unanimously on a bipartisan basis to allow gun permit holders to keep their firearms securely locked in their vehicles while at work."
He continued, "This bill ensures that private property rights are respected while gun owners are protected. I look forward to its quick passage so that this General Assembly can focus on limiting government, creating jobs and making Tennessee an even better place to raise a family."
The proposed bill will now be put on the Senate calendar for a vote.
The companion bill, HB 0118, has been referred to the Civil Justice Subcommittee.